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Former Top Government Officials Side With Apple In FBI Legal Battle

March 4, 2016, 2:21 AM UTC
Apple Supporters Protest In Front Of FBI Headquarters In Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Last week a federal judge ordered Apple to write software that would allow law enforcement agencies investigating the December 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, to hack into one of the attacker's iPhone. Apple is fighting the order, saying it would create a way for hackers, foreign governments, and other nefarious groups to invade its customers' privacy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

It’s not just technology companies and privacy groups that are siding with Apple in its legal battle with the FBI over a locked iPhone used by a terrorist during the San Bernardino attacks.

Several former high-level government officials described the FBI’s effort to compel Apple to help law enforcement unlock a terrorist’s iPhone as misguided.

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco on Thursday that requiring Apple to create software to weaken the iPhone’s security would be akin to “creating a bacterial biological weapon.” Several similar demands by other law enforcement increase the risk of Apple’s software eventually leaking into the hands of criminals.

Mike McConnell, a former Director of National Intelligence and Navy Vice Admiral who also appeared at the conference, said “ubiquitous encryption is something the nation needs to have.” McConnell explained that any attempt to weaken encryption technology puts the U.S. at risk of cyber espionage from other countries.

The former Chief Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Nuala O’Connor, argued that encryption technology is important for protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens. She said that data encryption will be even more important as more devices like automobiles and household appliances are connected online.

“You have boundaries around your data that are inalienable,” said O’Connor.

Chertoff echoed O’Connor’s statements about the need to encrypt data with the “expansion of the Internet of things,” the emerging universe of Internet-connected home appliances, factory equipment, and power stations. Cyber attacks on critical infrastructure will only increase as more devices are wired to the Internet, he explained.

“Securing those will be as important as protecting our borders,” said Chertoff

The former government officials’ comments contrast with recently made statements by FBI Director James Comey in light of the legal drama with Apple. Comey, a critic of encryption technology, said the “litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.”

For more on Apple and the DOJ, check out our video:

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Keith Mularski echoed Comey’s statements in an earlier RSA session on Thursday. Mularski declined to elaborate further about Comey’s previous public statements, but said that encryption technology “absolutely affects us” when it comes to the FBI’s ability to perform criminal investigations.

“We’ve gone dark,” Mularski said in regards to certain investigations he believes have been hindered through encryption technology. “We don’t see stuff.”