On Tuesday, March 1, 2016 FBI Director James Comey and Bruce Sewell, Senior Vice President and General Counsel to Apple, Inc., among others, participated in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy.” The hearing represents the first confrontation between law enforcement and Apple over accessing the data stored on the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists in the Dec. 2015 San Bernardino attack.
The New York times reports, “Many lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee seemed torn over where to draw the line.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asserted “The big question for our country is how much privacy are we going to give up in the name of security, and there’s no easy answer to that.” Providing strong support for the FBI Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) questioned if “We’re going to create evidence-free zones? Am I missing something? How the hell you can’t access a phone, I just find baffling.”
The hearings point to Apple being at a strategic disadvantage in Washington. The Washington Post reports, “Apple’s lobbying presence in Washington is tiny compared to other tech firms. The company spent roughly $4.5 million on lobbying last year.” In comparison Mircrosoft spent 8.5 million, Facebook spent almost $10 million, and Google (now Alphabet) spent over 16.5 million on lobbying in 2015. According to the Post, “In some ways, Apple’s relative dearth of relationships on Capitol Hill makes it a more vulnerable target. Unlike companies with large, well-funded lobbying teams, Apple lacks the means to avoid the government spotlight when it happens to settle upon them. Apple has few lawmakers that it can reliably call to its defense.”
According to Politico, “All eyes are on the hearing today as most tech companies, while quietly sympathetic to Apple, are keeping their heads down. One tech lobbyist said his clients are eager for intel on the proposals but don’t want an advocacy push just yet. As Information Technology Industry Council President and CEO Dean Garfield said in a statement yesterday, “this is the beginning of the conversation.””
Fierce Government Relations and Franklin Square Group represent Apple on encryption.