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Congress grills FBI and Apple over iPhone encryption case

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Whose side are you on?

The FBI wants Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernadino massacre in the hope that it prevents similar incidents. Apple claims this would set a dangerous precedent, and erode citizens' civil liberties. Now the two sides have sat down for a grilling from the US Congress.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee quizzed FBI director James Comey and Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell in a five-hour session yesterday (via CNET). The title of the hearing? "The Encryption Tightrope."

The FBI argued this wasn't about asking Apple to create a back door into its iOS operating system. "There already is a door on that iPhone," Comey said. "We're asking [Apple] to take away the guard dog so we can pick the lock."

However, he did admit that if Apple did create a tool, it could be used in other iPhones, and that this case could set a precedent.

Which would seem to bolster Apple's argument. "This is not about the San Bernadino case," Sewell said. "The tool we are asked to create will work on every iPhone. The notion that this is only about opening one lock is a misnomer."

Fellow tech firms Facebook, Microsoft and Google have come out in support of Apple, while Donald Trump supports the FBI.

Earlier this week, there were signs the case could go Apple's way. A US district court judge dismissed a similar government request in a case involving a drug dealer and his phone in Queens, New York. It's a separate case entirely, but a precedent may have been set.

Read more: Apple vs the FBI: Your questions answered

The FBI claims smartphones provide a safe haven for terrorists and criminals. "Before these devices came around, there was no closet, basement or drawer in America that could not be entered with a judge's order," Comey said.

Sewell dismissed claims that Apple's emphasis on security was a marketing ploy designed to appeal to its customers.

The debate will run and run. Whose side are you on? Let us know in the comments.

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