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Rep. Issa Criticizes FBI's Strategy To Get Into Terrorist's iPhone


More tense moments in Washington this week over what to do with an iPhone. That phone belonged to one of the attackers in San Bernardino, Calif. The government wants Apple to create software to decrypt it. Apple has defied a judge's order to do that. This week, Darrell Issa, a California congressman known for grilling government officials, took FBI director James Comey to task over this. He said the government is demanding something from Apple that could jeopardize the privacy of anyone with an iPhone.


DARRELL ISSA: You're expecting somebody to obey an order to do something they don't want to do. And you haven't even figured out whether you could do it yourself. You've just told us well, we can't do it. But you didn't ask for the source code. And you didn't ask the questions I asked here today, and I'm just - I'm just a guy that did...

GREENE: Issa is a guy who knows about technology. The Republican Congressman made his fortune in electronic security creating car alarms. His congressional office is actually decorated with patents he has won for his electronic inventions. I asked him why he was so tough on the FBI director.

ISSA: I wouldn't say I was tough. What I would say is that the FBI director came unprepared.

GREENE: Unprepared because in Issa's mind, the FBI couldn't answer a simple question - why they didn't consider other ways to break into this iPhone short of forcing Apple to write new software that could, in Issa's mind, be used by hackers, maybe even other countries, to break into other phones. Now, Issa thinks there were other options like working with Apple to copy the data on the phone belonging to the attacker. This, Issa says, would've allowed government investigators to try hundreds and hundreds of passwords, likely eventually being able to break in.

ISSA: If you make 2000 copies you essentially get 2000 tries to find the combination.

GREENE: And this is really important, Issa says, because it would have still involved unlocking a single phone and not forcing Apple to create software that could unlock all phones. Issa thinks the FBI could have asked Apple for help with this.

ISSA: Certainly, Apple could've been asked to help them make copies. And I'm not sure that Apple would have objected to it. Apple was objecting not to the things that it in the ordinary courts could do. They were objecting to developing a clandestine backdoor for their product.

GREENE: And why is that such a red flag for you because Director Comey described the request as akin to asking Apple to take away the vicious guard dog and let us pick the lock.

ISSA: But that's just not true. That's not true. Your listeners need to understand one of your rights is your right to privacy. Now, if Apple creates a backdoor, it's not removing a guard dog from a criminal's front door. It's giving an automated process of unlocking every door in America and unlocking it potentially without your knowing it. That's really what they're asking for.

GREENE: And that sounds very dramatic. I mean, the government has said this is one phone and...

ISSA: Look, the government lies. Understand - this may be NPR - but the government lies to you. I have spent 10 years representing the people of California. And I have seen governments, both Republican and Democratic, lie. If you want to promote the fact that your listeners can have all of their data remotely taken by their government at any time if they happen to get a FISA judge in secrecy to give them an authorization to do it, go ahead.

GREENE: I do want to assure you, I mean, we're not promoting any cause here. I mean, it's our role to be journalists. And I guess I just want to hear from you - if you don't believe the government is simply trying to keep Americans safe and to solve a terrorism case, why do you think they're asking for more than they need to, as you put it?

ISSA: David, you are being an advocate. So let's understand this - you keep returning to things that are said by the FBI that have already been shown to be not true. What the director is saying that you're paraphrasing simply isn't true. He doesn't want this one. They have 12 more that they have. They have asked for unlock in other jurisdictions, other cases. And one of our witnesses, of course, has 175 that they want to unlock. So it's not about one terrorist. It's not about terrorism at all. The issue is that the FBI asked for more than they needed. And if they were given it, it would set a bad precedent for all of America's liberties.

GREENE: Congressman Issa, nice talking to you. Thanks so much for the time.

ISSA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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