Exclusive: San Bernardino victims to oppose Apple on iPhone encryption

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DOJ, Apple in War of Words Over San Bernardino Attacker's iPhone

Some victims of the San Bernardino attack will file a legal brief in support of the U.S. government's attempt to force Apple Inc to unlock the encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters, a lawyer representing the victims said on Sunday.

Stephen Larson, a former federal judge who is now in private practice, told Reuters that the victims he represents have an interest in the information which goes beyond the Justice Department's criminal investigation.

SEE ALSO: FBI admits it reset San Bernardino shooter's iPhone password

"They were targeted by terrorists, and they need to know why, how this could happen," Larson said.

Larson said he was contacted a week ago by the Justice Department and local prosecutors about representing the victims, prior to the dispute becoming public. He said he will file an amicus brief in court by early March.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.

Larson declined to say how many victims he represents. Fourteen people died and 22 others were wounded in the shooting attack by a married couple who were inspired by Islamic State militants and died in a gun battle with police.

Entry into the fray by victims gives the federal government a powerful ally in its fight against Apple, which has cast itself as trying to protect public privacy from overreach by the federal government.

RELATED GALLERY: Learn more about the victims of the shooting

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Exclusive: San Bernardino victims to oppose Apple on iPhone encryption
Pictures of Wednesday's shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial site Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif. Thousands of employees of San Bernardino County are preparing to return to work Monday, five days after a county restaurant inspector and his wife opened fire on a gathering of his co-workers, killing 14 people and wounding 21. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A mourner holds a program with a picture of Isaac Amanios during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn Eritrea for the United States in January 2000. He was fatally shot in the Dec. 2. mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Flowers and a portrait of Isaac Amanios are displayed at a memorial servic at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial services at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Van Thanh Nguyen, center, mother of Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, is consoled by family members during her daughter's funeral service at the Good Shepherd Cemetery, in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Nghi Van Nguyen, grandmother of Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, weep at her casket during her funeral service in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Pallbearers stand guard over the casket of the slain Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, at the start of the memorial service at St. Barbara's Catholic Church, in Santa Ana, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Community members attend the funeral for Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, at St. Barbara's Catholic Church, in Santa Ana, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
COLTON, CA - DECEMBER 12: A woman consoles a man during a funeral service for San Bernardino shooting victim Isaac Amanios at the St. Minas Orthodox Church in Colton Saturday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: San Trinh, long time boyfriend of of Tin Nguyen, holds a photo after her coffin was loaded into a hearse at her funeral held at St. Barbaras Catholic Church in Santa Ana, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. A heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Tram Le, center, cousin of Tin Nguyen, holds a cooler of Tin's during her burial held at Good Shepherd Cemetery in Huntington Beach, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. Tin Nguyen was one of 14 that died after a heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Family members of Tin Nguyen carry her coffin to a hearse at her funeral held at St. Barbaras Catholic Church in Santa Ana, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. A heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
COLTON, CA - DECEMBER 12: The three children of San Bernardino shooting victim Isaac Amanios speak next to their fathers casket during funeral services at the St. Minas Orthodox Church in Colton Saturday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
COVINA, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015: Attendees weep after seeing a hearse carrying Yvette Velasco's casket, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attacks, pass by before the funeral service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Covina, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2015. Yvette Velasco is survived by her parents and three sisters. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
California Highway Patrol officers attend a memorial service for Yvette Velasco on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The parents Yvette Velasco release a dove of during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
A family blows a kiss at the casket of Yvette Velasco during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The sisters of Yvette Velasco pay their respects at a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Friends of Yvette Velasco embrace as they arrive for a memorial services, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting Wednesday, Dec. 2, in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
COVINA, CA - DECEMBER 10: Family members hug near the casket of 27-year-old Yvette Velasco at the first funeral for victims of the December 2 massacre in San Bernardino on December 10, 2015 in Covina, California. Velasco was attending a holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center on December 2 when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered the room heavily armed and opened fire, killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Family members and friends arrive before a funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members, friends, and law enforcement members attend the funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members, friends, and law enforcement members attend the funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
COVINA, CA - DECEMBER 10: Friends and loved ones pass graveside Christmas decorations as they arrive for funeral services for 27-year-old Yvette Velasco, the first funeral for victims of the December 2 massacre in San Bernardino, on December 10, 2015 in Covina, California. Velasco was attending a holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center on December 2 when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered the room heavily armed and opened fire, killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The sisters of Yvette Velasco release doves of during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
The parents Yvette Velasco hug during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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An Apple spokesman declined to comment. In a letter to customers last week, Tim Cook, the company's chief executive, said: "We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected," saying that the company has "worked hard to support the government's efforts to solve this horrible crime."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking the tech company's help to access shooter Syed Rizwan Farook's phone by disabling some of its passcode protections. The company so far has pushed back, arguing that such a move would set a dangerous precedent and threaten customer security.

The clash between Apple and the Justice Department has driven straight to the heart of a long-running debate over how much law enforcement and intelligence officials should be able to monitor digital communications.

The Justice Department won an order in a Riverside, California federal court on Tuesday against Apple, without the company present in court. Apple is scheduled to file its first legal arguments on Friday, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, who served as a federal prosecutor before being appointed to the bench, has set a hearing on the issue for next month.

Larson once presided over cases in Riverside, and Pym argued cases in Larson's courtroom several times as a prosecutor while Larson was a judge, he said. Larson returned to private practice in 2009, saying at the time that a judge's salary was not enough to provide for his seven children.

He said he is representing the San Bernardino victims for free.

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