- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The FBI’s claim that only Apple is capable of recovering data from San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone is akin to animal excrement, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said Tuesday.

Department of Justice attorneys said in a court filing last month that Apple has the “exclusive technical means” of accessing data off an iPhone 5c recovered from Farook after he and his wife killed 14 people in a December 2015 rampage. Both perpetrators died after during a shoot-out with police, and the Justice Department has asked a District Court judge in California to issue an order compelling Apple to unlock the phone since it claims it’s otherwise impossible to recover any digital evidence from the device.

“Respectfully, that’s horse****,” Mr. Snowden told attendees at the Blueprint for Democracy conference in Washington, D.C. this week through a video link from Moscow.

The 32-year-old former NSA contractor fled the U.S. in 2013 after leaking classified documents detailing the scope of the intelligence community’s ability to conduct mass surveillance through various top-secret programs, including efforts specifically targeting smartphone technology. He’s been in Russia ever since after being granted asylum.

Mr. Snowden alluded on Twitter last month that Apple isn’t the only one with the “exclusive technicals means” to cracking the shooter’s iPhone. He highlighted those specific words in copy of the Justice Department’s filing in a Feb. 18 tweet that he said he was sharing “without comment.”

“That NSA hacks smartphones is established fact,” he tweeted Feb. 27.

Nevertheless, FBI Director James Comey last week told lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that the bureau has unsuccessfully appealed to the broader intelligence community, including explicitly NSA, for assistance in cracking Farook’s iPhone.

“We’ve talked to anybody who will talk to us about it, and I welcome additional suggestions,” Mr. Comey said.

On its part, the Justice Department evoked the All Writs Act of 1789 when it told a District Court judge last month that Apple should be compelled to provide the FBI with technical assistance.

Apple claims it would have to spend several weeks writing a new operating systen for the FBI to run in order for authorities to bypass three separate security features enabled on Farook’s iPhone. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the government’s demands would requiring having company to create the software “equivalent of cancer.”

“The FBI is asking Apple to weaken the security of our products. Hackers and cyber criminals could use this to wreak havoc on our privacy and personal safety. It would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion on the privacy and safety of its citizens,” Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, testified at last week’s House hearing.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft have all filed court briefs in support of Apple and agree that compelling the company to write new code would establish a dangerous precedent. Mr. Snowden’s former email provider, Lavabit, said in its brief that the Justice Department would violate the Thirteenth Amendment by forcing Apple to perform labor against its will.

“In simpler terms,” said Lavabit founder Ladar Levison, “this attempted use of the All Writs Act is a blatant and unabashed attempt to circumvent Congress, and pass a heaping pile of bovine feces off as edible. In fact, the FBI is using a hard case in an attempt to force bad law on the American people.”

“Even if the authority to compel such extraordinary assistance was constitutional, then it is the sole responsibility of Congress to mutilate the economic potential of American technology companies by imposing such an obligation,” said Mr. Levison, who ran Lavabit for 10 years. He shuttered the service in 2013 shortly after the NSA leaks began after he was subpoenaed in a federal probe.

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