As the FBI has tried to make its case to the public, saying that a win for the agency in its battle with Apple over iOS encryption wouldn’t set a precedent moving forward, it turns out that precedent may have been the goal all along.
The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, sat in front of a congressional hearing today to talk about encryption, and the implications of its presence in citizens’ lives and how it impacts national security. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of questions lobbied at the director were focused on precedent, and how the case with Apple over accessing an iPhone 5c used by a shooter at San Bernardino last year could be used as leverage moving forward in similar cases that might arise.
In a direct reply to Rep. John Conyers, Comey said, “If the All Writs Act is available to us, and relief under the All Writs Act fits the powers of the statute, of course” the agency would use the same tactic in other similar instances in the future. Comey, during his testimony, has repeatedly gone back to the potential precedent that this case would set.
This almost exactly flies in the face of Comey’s previous statements, including most recently when the director spoke in front of the House Intelligence Committee, when he said that the San Bernardino case would “not be a trailblazer” setting a precedent moving forward.