Apple, FBI Discuss Encryption vs. Security on Capitol Hill

FBI official says she believes in finding common ground in encryption fight.

ByAlyssa Newcomb
April 19, 2016, 11:55 AM

— -- The delicate balance between privacy and security took center stage on Capitol Hill this morning as law enforcement officials and Apple's general counsel appeared on two separate panels to discuss encryption.

Bruce Sewell, Apple's general counsel, and Amy Hess, executive assistant director for science and technology at the FBI, testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee today in two separate panels. Both will be joined by law enforcement officials and technology experts as they weighed in on the debate on balancing privacy and security.

Hess, whose panel testified first this morning, said she supported finding a common ground in the ongoing encryption debate.

"I really believe that certain industry leaders have created secure systems yet they are still able to comply with lawful orders," she said.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, said the committee also invited Facebook and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, to participate in the hearings but said they declined.

A representative for both companies told ABC News: "We respect the important role the committee plays in examining these issues and their impact on privacy and security. While we are unable to participate in this hearing, we will continue to be engaged on this important issue."

Facebook's WhatsApp messaging service rolled out end-to-encryption for the app's one billion users earlier this month.

The panels have been convened at a contentious time as the tug-of-war over privacy and security continues to escalate between Silicon Valley and the government.

Microsoft filed suit last week in federal court in the Western District of Washington for the right to be able to tell customers when law enforcement officials request their emails and other data. The lawsuit came the same week Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr and the panel’s vice chair, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, circulated proposed legislation that would compel companies to help authorities access data on the power of a warrant or court order.

Federal officials announced last month they successfully cracked into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters and no longer needed Apple's help in unlocking the device. Apple and the FBI had engaged in a very public battle over privacy rights leading up to the FBI's announcement.

Only days after abandoning that case, the Justice Department said earlier this month it is still pushing Apple to help break into an iPhone seized in a New York drug case, according to a notice to a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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