Legal

Attorney General on Apple: We're Asking Them to Do What Their Customer Wants

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that Apple won't comply with its customer's needs by refusing to unlock the phone of a deceased terrorist.

"What we're asking them to do is to do what their customer wants. The real owner of the phone is the county -- the employer of one of the terrorists who is now dead," she told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show last night. "And what we're asking them to do is to help us disable the password erase function that basically wipes the phone if you guess the password wrong after 10 times. We will try and get into the phone. We will extract the evidence under the court order that we have gotten that's very narrow and very focused."

The case between the Justice Department and Apple involves potential information held on the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, who killed 14 people and injured 22 in an attack in December.

Related: FBI Director Says Apple Case May Set a Precedent for Other Devices

In an open letter to customers last month, Tim Cook said that while the company had complied with the FBI's investigation to that point, they had reached an impasse because the company had been asked to build a backdoor to the security system of the iPhone.

"In the wrong hands, this software -- which does not exist today -- would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession. … And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control," the CEO wrote.

Related: Justice Department Calls Apple's Rhetoric 'Corrosive' in iPhone Case

When Colbert asked her about the case, saying that he assumed she disagreed with Cook's stance on the issue, Lynch said that the Justice Department is not asking for a backdoor or to turn any device on to spy on anyone. She added that while she and the Apple CEO have disagreed publicly in court, "I've had a number of great conversations with Tim Cook on issues of privacy," and as both the attorney general and a private citizen, she said she understood why privacy is so important.   

Pushing back a bit, Colbert said that Cook has characterized this request as a slippery slope -- that if the function did exist, it could be used turn on someone's phone to surveil them without their knowledge.

Moving away from Apple at the end of the interview, Colbert asked for the Attorney General’s take on Hillary Clinton's State Department emails. Unsurprisingly, Lynch couldn’t say too much about any Justice Department activity involving Clinton. For more, check out the video above.

Edition: December 2016

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