GOP senator unloads: 'Apple chose to protect a dead ISIS terrorist's privacy over the security of the American people'

Judge to Apple: Unlock San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone
Judge to Apple: Unlock San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone

A prominent US senator released a scathing statement Wednesday blasting Apple for pushing back on a court order to help law-enforcement officials hack into a terrorist's phone.

In the statement, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) accused Apple of protecting "a dead ISIS terrorist's privacy over the security of the American people."

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"The executive and legislative branches have been working with the private sector with the hope of resolving the 'going dark' problem," the statement said.

"Regrettably, the position Tim Cook and Apple have taken shows that they are unwilling to compromise and that legislation is likely the only way to resolve this issue," he continued, referring to Apple's CEO.

Law-enforcement officials have been trying to get into the iPhone of one of the shooters who carried out the December terror attack at a community center in San Bernardino, California. The phone is equipped with a security feature that erases the phone's data after too many unsuccessful passcode attempts. A US magistrate judge has ordered Apple to provide software that could break through that feature.

Read reactions to Apple's decisions

Cook posted an open letter on Apple's website calling the demand "chilling" and arguing that it "would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect."

Cotton seemed to disagree.

"The problem of end-to-end encryption isn't just a terrorism issue," Cotton said in the statement. "It is also a drug-trafficking, kidnapping, and child-pornography issue that impacts every state of the union. It's unfortunate that the great company Apple is becoming the company of choice for terrorists, drug dealers, and sexual predators of all sorts."

FBI Director James Comey aired similar concerns in front of a Senate committee earlier this month.

"The growing use of encryption both to lock devices when they sit there and to cover communications ... is actually overwhelmingly affecting law enforcement," Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "... It has an impact on national security work, but overwhelmingly this is a problem local law enforcement sees."

Phones that default-lock can "hold the evidence of child pornography, communications that somebody made before they were killed, before they went missing, the evidence necessary to solve a crime," Comey said. He added that "it's a big problem for law enforcement, armed with a search warrant, when you find a device that can't be opened even though the judge said there is probable cause."

Police found two crushed cellphones in a trash can near the site of the San Bernardino attack. The iPhone that law-enforcement officials are now trying to access is a county-owned work phone that was used by Syed Rizwan Farook.

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He and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, died in a shootout with the police after they carried out the attack at the Inland Regional Center. The attack killed 14 people and left at least 21 others injured.

The shooters pledged allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh, right before the attacks, officials have said.

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