FBI Director James Comey is in the hot seat right now, and he’s not happy about it. The government took a giant step back in its legal battle with Apple on Monday, moving to postpone further hearings until it had tested a new method of cracking into the iPhone at the center of the case.
The problem is, until Monday’s motion, the FBI had been claiming that it had no way to access data on the locked iPhone without Apple’s help. But suddenly, an “outside party” had given them a hot new hack, and they didn’t need Apple’s help. The change could have huge ramifications on the entire Apple case, and was a whiplash-inducing reversal of the government’s prior barrage of legal pressure on Apple.
The Wall Street Journal called them out on it, publishing an op-ed article on Tuesday that repeatedly called the FBI’s dealings with Apple dishonest, accusing them of lying on several occasions. According to the Journal, the FBI had previously claimed that it had “exhausted all other practical options” for breaking into the phone — which turned out not to be true.
“Now we learn the FBI, far from exhausting all other practical options, had been pursuing such non-Apple leads all along,” the article said. “Justice also fibbed by saying the Apple case is about one phone,” and “rushed to legal war with dubious theories.”
In keeping with their prior legal strategies, the government, represented by Director Comey, hit back immediately with a letter to the Wall Street Journal’s editors.
Regarding your editorial “The Encryption Meltdown; The FBI now says its Apple assault might not even be necessary” (March 22): You are simply wrong to assert that the FBI and the Justice Department lied about our ability to access the San Bernardino killer’s phone.
The San Bernardino case, Comey said, “stimulated creative people around the world to see what they might be able to do,” and “lots of folks came to us with ideas.” Comey also denied that the case was about setting precedent for future cases, despite the fact that the government is already trying to get into several other phones in different cases.
Essentially, Comey is sticking to the “we did nothing wrong” plan, and the future of the case now rests almost entirely on the outcome of the outside party’s plan to hack their way in.