Washington | Apple today denied providing Chinese authorities with special access to its devices, as the iPhone maker defended its position on encryption and cooperation with US law enforcement.
The company’s general counsel Bruce Sewell was appearing at a US congressional hearing on encryption’s impact on law enforcement, as the high-tech giant battles the government over whether it should be compelled to help authorities in criminal cases.
Sewell said he wanted to set the record straight on China in light of reports cited by officials at the hearing that the company had turned over its software instructions or source code, which could be used to break encryption, to Beijing. We have not provided source code to the Chinese government, he told lawmakers. We have been asked by the Chinese government. We refused, he said, adding that this had happened within the past two years.
The hearing was called to discuss how strong encryption is hampering law enforcement and how technology firms should respond to legitimate law enforcement requests to break encryption.
Lawmakers at the House Energy and Commerce committee said they hoped the discussion would help both sides in the debate find common ground, so that privacy can be protected while enabling law enforcement to get data its needs for criminal probes. I can’t believe this problem is intractable, said Representative Diana DeGette.
What I want to hear, is about possible solutions going forward. While law enforcement officials and Apple both expressed a willingness to talk, the comments appeared to show little common ground in a debate which has been raging for weeks.
The encryption issue hit a boiling point earlier this year when Apple refused to help the FBI weaken the operating system of an iPhone used by one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernardino killing spree.
The government eventually withdrew the request, saying it had been able to get into the phone with help from an outside party, but similar cases are pending in the courts. Sewell defended the company’s toughened encryption for its iPhones, which can sometimes make data unreadable to authorities, even with a warrant.
The best way we, and the technology industry, know how to protect your information is through the use of strong encryption, he said. Encryption today is the backbone of our cybersecurity infrastructure and provides the very best defense we have against increasingly hostile attacks.