Caution: Weasel-words ahead! FBI director James Comey today defended iPhone hacking again, this time in front of a congressional panel — saying that it was absolutely a one-off case which wouldn’t set a precedent, only to acknowledge that the verdict “will be instructive for other courts” in future.
Comey also said that he thinks this question needs to be resolved by Congress — backing up an argument that Apple has made this week.
Whether or not this case will set a precedent which will be used going forward has been at the heart of the hacking vs. privacy iPhone issue (which you can read about in our handy FAQ here.)
In Tim Cook’s original open letter on the subject, he argued that the court order stating that Apple needs to create a government backdoor to one of its devices represents an, “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”
It seems Cook has his supporters, too. In today’s hearing, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the congressional panel, warned that, “I don’t see a limiting principle” in the Apple case. “While the result may only affect this phone, the precedent may be there for many others,” he added.
To be fair to FBI director James Comey, he acknowledges that the encryption debate “is the hardest question I’ve seen in government,” but there’s something fundamentally dishonest about his claiming that making Apple unlock one of its iPhones won’t set a landmark ruling for the future, before admitting (during the exact same hearing) that it may be “instructive.”
Especially when it turns out that the Department of Justice is already lining up to file court orders for Apple to help extract iPhone data in a further dozen cases around the U.S. And none of them relate to terrorism.