It was announced last week that Apple would once again face off against the FBI in Congress this week after its previous testimony over the FBI’s request in the San Bernardino gunmen case. During the hearing today, which was entitled “Deciphering the Debate Over Encryption: Industry and Law Enforcement Perspectives,” Apple’s General Counsel Bruce Sewell continued to defend the need for strong user encryption. He also clarified, however, that Apple has refused requests from China for source code.
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During the hearing, Sewell was pressed by law enforcement officials regarding reports that Apple has handed over information to Chinese authorities, despite its refusal to aid in situations like the controversial San Bernardino case. Sewell clarified today, however, that while Apple has received requests from the Chinese government for it to hand over source code, it has not done so. According to Sewell, the requests have come within the last two years and Apple has not complied with any of them.
The allegations were initially brought up by Captain Charles Cohen, commander in the Indiana State Police, who accused Apple of giving information to the Chinese government in exchange for business advantages.
Furthermore, Sewell clarified that Apple has yet to announce passcode encryption on iCloud. Although iCloud backups are encrypted, the keys for the encryption are also stored with Apple. It has been reported in the past that Apple is developing a new backup strategy where the keys would be tied to the local user device in some way, meaning that Apple itself would not be able to comply with law enforcement requests. While Sewell did not deny that Apple is working on something like this, he did clarify that nothing has been announced or rolled out yet.
In presenting his argument for the need for encryption on user devices, Sewell likened phones to authentication devices. The Apple executive explained that phones store so much information in modern times that if you break encryption to gain access to them, the consequences could be dire.
Finally, Sewell concluded by saying that he has proposed private, more casual meetings with the FBI to discuss the need for encryption and how the two parties can work together to better understand where each side is coming from with their arguments. Sewell noted that he was asking for these meetings prior to the San Bernardino case, but is still very much open to having one.
You can watch the full video of the event below: