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Apple: 'Dangerous Precedent' to Unlock Phone in Terrorism Probe

  • Ken Bredemeier

FILE - Building the software needed to break into one iPhone would debilitate the security of hundreds of millions of other Apple devices, the company says.

Technology giant Apple plans to tell a U.S. congressional panel Tuesday that a demand by law enforcement authorities to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California terrorists who killed 14 people "would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion" into the lives of people.

In an advance copy of his testimony, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell says that building the software needed to break into the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook would debilitate the security of hundreds of millions of other Apple devices used by the company's customers throughout the world.

"Building that software tool would not affect just one iPhone," Sewell says. "It would weaken the security for all of them.... We can all agree this is not about access to just one iPhone."

The top U.S. law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is demanding that Apple create software that would allow investigators to check the phone to see if Farook, an American-born Muslim, was in contact with others about the early December attack he carried out with his Pakistani-born wife, Tashfeen Malik. Both were killed hours later in a shootout with police.

A court magistrate in California has ordered Apple to comply with the demand, but the outcome is uncertain pending Apple's appeal.

In New York Monday, a different court magistrate ruled that the Justice Department cannot force Apple to comply. A Justice Department spokesman expressed disappointment in that ruling and said the department plans to appeal.

If the California judge's order is upheld, other law enforcement officials say they will ask the company to unlock other Apple devices involved in criminal investigations.

One survey in the U.S. showed that a majority of Americans favor the government's position in the dispute.

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