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Apple's top counsel to tell Congress, 'Encryption is a necessary thing'

Susie Ochs | March 1, 2016
Senior VP and General Counsel Bruce Sewell will argue that keeping our data safe actually protects us from "thieves and terrorists," not the other way around.

Apple’s refusal to help the FBI brute-force the iPhone 5c passcode of the San Bernardino shooter will most likely play out in the courts—the first hearing is scheduled for March 22 in Riverside, California. But Congress has a role to play too.

On Tuesday, Apple Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bruce Sewell will testify before the House Judiciary Committee, stressing that while Apple does respect and assist law enforcement, what the FBI wants this time simply goes too far.

One of Apple’s strategies is to argue that Congress should pass legislation to cover cases like this, instead of using the more broad All Writs Act, which was first passed in 1789 and last updated in 1946. Apple thinks a more modern statute like the Communications for Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) would be more appropriate, although the Department of Justice disagrees that it’s applicable here.

Sewell isn’t the only witness called to Congress on Tuesday. The Judiciary Committee’s hearing, titled “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security And Privacy,” will also feature testimony from FBI Director James Comey, Professor Susan Landau of Worcester Polytecnic Institute, and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. —who recently told Charlie Rose that he’s asked Apple to unlock 175 iPhones, and if the government gets its way in San Bernardino, would “absolutely” push for the same thing in New York.

The full text of Sewell’s opening remarks is below. The hearing is scheduled for 1pm Eastern, and will air live on C-SPAN 3.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s my pleasure to appear before you and the Committee today on behalf of Apple. We appreciate your invitation and the opportunity to be part of the discussion on this important issue which centers on the civil liberties at the foundation of our country.

I want to repeat something we have said since the beginning—that the victims and families of the San Bernardino attacks have our deepest sympathies and we strongly agree that justice should be served. Apple has no sympathy for terrorists.

We have the utmost respect for law enforcement and share their goal of creating a safer world. We have a team of dedicated professionals that are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to assist law enforcement. When the FBI came to us in the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino attacks, we gave all the information we had related to their investigation. And we went beyond that by making Apple engineers available to advise them on a number of additional investigative options.

But we now find ourselves at the center of an extraordinary circumstance. The FBI has asked a Court to order us to give them something we don’t have. To create an operating system that does not exist—because it would be too dangerous. They are asking for a backdoor into the iPhone—specifically to build a software tool that can break the encryption system which protects personal information on every iPhone.


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