5 Things We Learned About The Apple-FBI Encryption Debate At This Week's Hearing

The FBI And Apple Battle Continues

Apple and the FBI took center stage Tuesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the government's efforts to unlock the iPhone belonging to one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino attacks.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is aimed at enabling U.S. lawmakers to better understand both sides of the encryption debate and comes after a California judge last month ordered Apple to unlock the iPhone.

Apple, Cupertino, Calif., does not have access to the data on its phones, so the FBI requested it create a new version of its operating system, eliminating some security features, to install on the iPhone in question.

Following are five things we learned about the Apple and FBI encryption debate at Tuesday's hearing.

The Outcome Of Apple And The FBI's iPhone Battle Could Set Precedent

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that forcing Apple to unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone could "potentially" set a precedent for encryption in the future.

"I happen to think … there are technical limitations to how useful this particular San Bernardino technique will be given how the phones have changed -- but sure, other courts, other prosecutors, other lawyers for companies will look to that for guidance or how to distinguish it," Comey said during the hearing.

FBI Made Mistake In Changing Password On iPhone

During his testimony, Comey acknowledged that the FBI had made an error by changing the password of the iCloud account on the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone.

Apple has said this mistake created the legal struggle over the court order for the company to develop software to disable the iPhone security so the FBI can obtain data stored on the phone.

"There was a mistake made in the first 24 hours, where the county, at the FBI's request, made it hard to make the phone back up by [changing the password of] the iCloud account," Comey said in his testimony.

What Are The International Implications?

The House Judiciary Committee discussed the implications on foreign policy and what unlocking an iPhone could means for other countries -- specifically, China.

Comey said that if the government was given access to a master key, other governments around the globe could ask for the same.

"There will be international implications, but we're not sure of the scope just yet," he said.

Cybersecurity professor Susan Landau, who testified for Apple, said this was a significant possibility.

"There is no question that authoritarian governments in such countries as Russia and China will demand Apple deliver the same software as it has been ordered to develop to handle [the San Bernardino attacker's] work phone," she said.

Apple Does Not Offer Solution

Some House Judiciary Committee members were critical of Apple for not offering any sort of solution to the controversy.

In response to a question by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.), Apple's chief counsel, Bruce Sewell, said Apple does not have a proposal, but instead wanted to encourage an open dialogue.

"What we're asking for … is a debate on this. I don't have a proposal; I don't have a solution for it," he said.

Protection Against Other Hackers

Apple's representatives raised some concerns about creating backdoors to encryption, particularly about how it could open opportunities for hackers to gain access to iPhones through hacking the government.

"If the information on the phone is accessible to Apple, it will be accessible to others -- and this promising and important solution to protecting login credentials … will be ineffective," said cybersecurity professor Laundau. "That's why locking down the data is so crucial for security. Rather than providing us with better security, the FBI's efforts will torpedo it."

"There is already a door on the iPhone. We're telling Apple, ’Take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock," Comey said in response.