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What's Next for Apple as Its Battle With the FBI Plays Out in Washington?

Some 40 companies and associations are expected to file friend-of-the-court briefs Thursday.

Chip Somodevilla, Gabriella Demczuk / Getty

During a marathon Congressional hearing, Apple declined to propose its own legislative solution for striking the proper balance between a citizen’s right to privacy and security and law enforcement’s need for evidence to prosecute crimes.

Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner warned: “I can tell you you’re not going to like what comes out of Congress.”

Here’s what D.C. is working on right now:

  • Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein are drafting a bill that would force companies to decrypt data under court order. One Capitol Hill source said they’re still trying to find a consensus.
  • House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul has proposed forming a Digital Security commission — composed of experts from the tech industry, intelligence community and privacy advocates — to come up with some suggestions. This is an approach Apple CEO Tim Cook has openly endorsed (and it’s also the Beltway’s time-honored tactic for deferring action on sensitive issues).
  • Sensenbrenner, the conservative Republican who co-authored the Patriot Act and also the USA Freedom Act, might draft a bill that favors law enforcement. But other members of the House Judiciary Committee seemed to recognize the value of strong encryption. Democratic Rep. John Conyers even chastised the FBI: “Can you appreciate my frustration with what appears to be little more than an end-run around this committee?”

Apple, meanwhile, is reportedly working on bolstering security features to make it harder for the government to hack its devices in the future. And that could very well be Apple’s endgame. If it can get a new phone to market that is essentially uncrackable, any legislative outcome may be moot.

Technology and advocacy groups have been rallying around Apple.

Some 40 companies and associations are expected to file friend-of-the-court briefs Thursday supporting Apple’s position in the face of a court order requiring the company to help the FBI circumvent encryption on the iPhone used by one of the attackers in the San Bernardino mass shooting.

Even the spouse of one of the survivors in the Dec. 2 attack, Salihin Kondoker, wrote a letter to the judge supporting Apple’s position on encryption.

“In the wake of this terrible attack, I believe strongly we need stronger gun laws,” Kondoker wrote. “It was guns that killed innocent people, not technology.”

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