FBI Chief Insists Fight With Apple Is About The San Bernardino Victims

"I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending."

FBI Director James Comey on Sunday defended the government's stance in its escalating fight with Apple over a court order that would force the tech giant to crack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

In an article posted in the national security blog Lawfare, Comey downplayed fears about government snooping and privacy rights -- and sought to frame the debate around the victims and survivors of the massacre.

"The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice," Comey wrote.

Last week, the FBI and Apple made headlines when a federal judge ordered the company to build a "backdoor" allowing the government access to the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the killers in the mass shooting that left 14 dead and others wounded at a community center on Dec. 2.

In response to the court order, even Apple CEO Tim Cook entered the fray, writing on the company's website that the FBI's wishes, if carried to an extreme, would allow it to "demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge."

As if responding to Cook, Comey wrote that the legal recourse the FBI won in court "is actually quite narrow" and focused on the needs of victims, who he said deserve answers amid the "long conversation" around national security and privacy.

"The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve," Comey wrote. "We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it."

He added, "I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending."

In a related development, Reuters reported on Sunday that victims are looking to play a central role in the ongoing court battle between the government and Apple -- by filing a legal brief urging the court to force Apple to cooperate in unlocking Farook's iPhone.

"They were targeted by terrorists, and they need to know why, how this could happen," said Stephen Larson, the victims' lawyer.

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