Apple asks judge to vacate iPhone order

FBI Director James Comey, left, accompanied by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a House panel Thursday that the "larger question" in the Apple case shouldn't be answered in the courts.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Apple Inc. on Thursday asked a federal magistrate to reverse her order that the company help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone, accusing the federal government of seeking "dangerous power" through the courts and of trampling on its constitutional rights.

The filing represents Apple's first official response since the judge's order last week and builds upon arguments voiced by the company's chief executive and supporters.

It also marks the latest salvo in a court fight that could create meaningful precedent and establish new legal boundaries between national security and digital privacy.

Apple's filing came after FBI Director James Comey, in defending the government's demand for Apple to help access the device, told Congress that the policy issues raised in the Justice Department's dispute with Apple represent the "hardest question I've seen in government, and it's going to require negotiation and conversation."

"I do think the larger question is not going to be answered in the courts, and it shouldn't be. Because it's really about who do we want to be as a country, and how do we want to govern ourselves," Comey told the House Intelligence Committee.

He acknowledged at one point that Apple had been very helpful in the months leading up to the court clash and said that there were "no demons" in the debate.

He also conceded the benefits of encryption but said the FBI would continue to need the ability — through a warrant and court order — to intercept encrypted communications in criminal and terrorism investigations.

But Apple said: "No court has ever authorized what the government now seeks, no law supports such unlimited and sweeping use of the judicial process, and the Constitution forbids it."

The Justice Department is proposing a "boundless interpretation" of the law that, if left unchecked, could bring disastrous repercussions, the company warned in a memo submitted to Magistrate Sheri Pym that aggressively challenges policy justifications put forward by the Obama administration.

"The government says: 'Just this once' and 'Just this phone.' But the government knows those statements are not true," lawyers for Apple wrote.

They said that if Apple were required to build the software the FBI wants, "criminals, terrorists and hackers will no doubt view the code as a major prize and can be expected to go to considerable lengths to steal it."

A hearing is scheduled for next month.

The dispute broke into public view last week when Pym directed Apple to help the FBI gain access to a phone used by one of the assailants in the San Bernardino, California, attacks.

Federal agents haven't been able to open the phone of Syed Farook because they don't know the passcode.

The Justice Department wants Apple to create specialized software for the iPhone that would bypass some security features so the FBI can try as many passcodes as possible without the data being erased.

But Apple said the specialized software the government wants it to build does not exist and "would require significant resources and effort to develop," including the work of six to 10 engineers working two to four weeks.

Apple compared forcing it to create software that doesn't exist to weaken the iPhone's locks to forcing a journalist to publish false information to arrest a fugitive or forcing a software company to implant a virus in a customer's computer so the government could eavesdrop.

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