Technology: Apple asks judge to vacate order on iPhone

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WASHINGTON >> Apple Inc. on Thursday asked a federal magistrate to reverse her order that the company help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone, accusing the federal government of seeking "dangerous power" through the courts.

The filing represents Apple's first official response since the judge's order last week and builds upon arguments voiced by the company's chief executive and supporters.

The Justice Department is proposing a "boundless interpretation" of the law that, if left unchecked, could bring disastrous repercussions for digital privacy, the company warned in a memo submitted to Magistrate Sheri Pym.

"The government says: 'Just this once' and 'Just this phone.' But the government knows those statements are not true," lawyers for Apple wrote.

The filing was made the same day that FBI Director James Comey defended the government's approach during separate appearances on Capitol Hill.

Defusing tension

Days after making his first public statement on the matter in an Internet blog post, Comey appeared determined to tamp down the tension that has flared publicly between the government and the company in the week since the judge's order. He acknowledged at one point that Apple had been very helpful in the months leading up to the court clash and said that there were "no demons" in the debate.

He also conceded the benefits of encryption but said the FBI would continue to need the ability — through a warrant and court order — to intercept encrypted communications in criminal and terrorism investigations.

"If we're going to move to a world where that is not possible anymore, the world will not end — but it will be a different world than where we are today and where we were in 2014," he said. "So we just need to make sure that the bureau explains what the costs are so that people don't look at us five years from now and say, 'Where were you guys when this happened?'"

The dispute broke into public view last Tuesday when Pym directed Apple to help the FBI gain access to a phone used by one of the assailants in the San Bernardino, California, attacks.

But Apple said the specialized software the government wants it to build does not currently exist and "would require significant resources and effort to develop," including the work of six to 10 engineers working two to four weeks. The magistrate judge suggested in her ruling that the government would be required to pay Apple's costs.

"No court has ever authorized what the government now seeks, no law supports such unlimited and sweeping use of the judicial process, and the Constitution forbids it," Apple said.

It accused the government of working under a closed courtroom process under the auspices of a terrorism investigation of trying "to cut off debate and circumvent thoughtful analysis."

"The government wants to compel Apple to create a crippled and insecure product," the company said.


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