PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Angus King said Thursday he expects the Senate Intelligence Committee to consider legislation to address situations such as Apple’s standoff with President Barack Obama’s administration over customer privacy.
The court fight between the FBI and the technology giant over access to a secure cellphone used by the husband and wife who shot and killed 14 people in California last year has sparked the latest national debate on balancing national security against privacy rights.
King, a Maine independent who serves on the committee, said its leaders will discuss legislation that could clarify when the government gets access to encrypted phone data, but “whether we’ll get to the point of a bill on the floor, I don’t know.”
Still, Congress should settle the issue, he said.
“I’m not sure the place to make this broad policy decision is in a courtroom in California because it has such broad implications,” King said after a roundtable with police in Portland.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to help the government access encrypted data on an iPhone used by Rizwan Farook, who was killed in a firefight with police along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, after their attack.
The FBI has a warrant, but it can’t access the phone’s encrypted content because it can’t break the four-digit numeric passcode that locks it. Apple doesn’t keep those passwords, so it would need to build software allowing it to bypass security features.
Citing a 1789 law that often is used to justify court orders, the government argued it only wants access to one phone. But Apple CEO Tim Cook released a defiant Tuesday statement saying once created, the software “could be used over and over again.”
King gave no position on the court order, but he said he’s “not persuaded” by the government’s argument that this decision would just pertain to one phone.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a Wednesday statement she’s “uncomfortable with the precedent” the judge’s order could set.
She said “issues of encryption and data security are not black and white” and Congress should work to pass laws resolving the issue so centuries-old precedent isn’t relied upon.
“Clearly the laws on these issues could use some updating,” Pingree said.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, was more noncommittal in a Wednesday statement, saying while the government must have a strategy to disrupt terrorist recruiting methods, “we must also ensure that individuals’ freedoms and privacy are not infringed.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, was expected to address the issue Thursday afternoon after an event in Bangor.