Apple seeks creation of expert panel to resolve stand-off on privacy

WASHINGTON • Apple Inc yesterday called for the creation of a government commission or panel of experts on encryption to help resolve a stand-off over national security and data privacy.

The stand-off began last week after the technology company refused a US government demand to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

"Apple would gladly participate in such an effort," the company wrote in a post on its website entitled "Answers to your questions about Apple and security".

Such an idea is not new. A digital security commission comprising technology, business and law enforcement experts has been proposed by Democratic Senator Mark Warner and Republican Representative Michael McCaul to help break the impasse over encryption.

The bipartisan pair is scheduled to unveil details of legislation that would create a panel at a Washington event tomorrow.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook sent a letter to employees yesterday explaining the company's position and thanking them for their support.

"This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government's order, we knew we had to speak out," Mr Cook said in the e-mail letter to employees.

"At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties."

In its post, Apple added that "the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands" to unlock the phone. The company could not be immediately reached for further comment.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking the company's help to access Syed Rizwan Farook's phone by disabling some of its passcode protections.

Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, on Dec 2, killing 14 people and injuring 22. The pair were later killed in a shootout with police.

Apple has argued that although it is technically possible to bypass the security features of the iPhone by building a new operating system, such a move would set a dangerous precedent.

FBI director James Comey published an article on the national security legal blog Lawfare late on Sunday arguing that the case was not about setting a new legal precedent but "victims and justice".

"Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined," Mr Comey wrote. "We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That's what this is."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'Apple seeks creation of expert panel to resolve stand-off on privacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe