GOP candidates weigh in on the Apple court order

Photo credit: Alexey Boldin /

As the encryption debate heats up, Republican presidential candidates are weighing in on a judge's order telling Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers involved in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last year.

"I think Apple has a serious argument that they should not be forced to put a backdoor on every cell phone everyone has," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during a town hall meeting in Greenville, S.C. "If that creates a real security exposure for hackers [and] for cyber criminals to break into our cell phones, I think Apple has the right side on the global 'don't make us do this to every iPhone in the market.' But I think law enforcement has the better argument."

On Feb. 16, a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI break into one of the shooters' iPhones, but Apple CEO Tim Cook, a vocal advocate of strong encryption, vowed to oppose the court order.

"The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers -- including tens of millions of American citizens -- from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals," Cook said in a statement to Apple users.

According to the court order, the company would have to change a feature that blocks attempts to unlock the phone by rapidly entering multiple possible passwords -- a method known as a brute-force attack -- by wiping out the phone's data after 10 incorrect attempts.

The court order asks Apple to build a new version of its mobile operating system that is devoid of some security features, Cook said. "In the wrong hands, this software -- which does not exist today -- would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession," he added.

Three days ahead of South Carolina's presidential primary, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it is a "very complicated issue."

"There's already encrypted software that exists not only now but in the future and created in other countries," Rubio said. "We would not be able to stop that. So there would still be encryption capabilities. [They] just wouldn't be American encryption capabilities."

Rubio and retired neurosurgeon and candidate Ben Carson advocated working with the technology industry on a solution.

"There has to be a way to deal with this issue that continues to protect the privacy of Americans but creates some process by which law enforcement and intelligence agencies could access encrypted information," Rubio said. "I don't have a magic solution for it today."

Carson added that a lack of trust between the private and public sectors is keeping the problem from being resolved.

"I think that Apple and probably a lot of other people don't necessarily trust the government these days," Carson said. "But we are going to have to get over that because right now we are faced with tremendous threats from individuals, radical jihadists who want to destroy us."

"I think we can walk and chew gun at the same time," Cruz said. "We can protect ourselves from terrorists and protect our civil rights."

Sean Lyngaas contributed to this report.

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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