Apple warns FBI court order would threaten millions of iPhones
"I hear folks talk about keys and back doors. I actually don't see that this way," Comey said. "There's already a door on that iPhone. Essentially, we're asking Apple take the vicious guard dog away, let us try and pick the lock."
Still, when he was asked if an FBI win in court could set a precedent, Comey responded, "Sure, potentially."
From Apple's standpoint, it's much more than mere potential. Sewell flatly rejected Comey's characterization of the scope of the FBI's request, and for that matter the framing of the issue as a tension between security and privacy. Apple's encryption is a critical security feature in its own right, he argued.
"Building that software tool would not affect just one iPhone -- it would weaken the security for all of them," Sewell said. "The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products. Hackers and cyber criminals could use this to wreak havoc on our privacy and personal safety. It would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion into the privacy and safety of its citizens."
Last week, Apple filed a motion to vacate the FBI's court order, claiming that compelling it to develop new software to hack into an iPhone is a violation of the company's First and Fifth Amendment rights.
The dispute has become a proxy for the larger debate about the balance between privacy and national security, and the uneasy relationship between law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the technology community in the private sector.
Many lawmakers questioned the wisdom of establishing a framework for law enforcement authorities to gain access to devices through a workaround like the one the FBI is seeking. John Conyers (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, suggested that any such entry point would become the target of hackers, and would inevitably compromise the reputation of U.S. tech firms desperate to maintain the trust of their users.
"The technical experts have warned us that it is impossible to intentionally introduce flaws into secure products, often called backdoors, that only law enforcement can exploit to the exclusion of terrorist and cybercriminals. The tech companies have warned us that it would cost millions of dollars to implement and would place them at a competitive disadvantages around the world," Conyers said.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.