As Apple and the FBI continue to spar over access to an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, a Southern California attorney is preparing to file a brief showing the perspective of some of the attack’s victims.
Stephen Larson told BuzzFeed News he was asked by U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos to write a friend of the court brief in support of the government’s position. Larson, a former federal judge and prosecutor who grew up in the area, said he has spoken with multiple victims as he prepares to file the brief by March 2.
As the government seeks access to the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, their primary interest is filling gaps in the criminal investigation, Larson said.
“The victims, however, their interest is a little broader,” he said. “They have a real interest in why they were targeted, whether they’re still targeted.”
Fourteen people were killed and 22 were injured when Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire at a holiday party for Farook’s fellow San Bernardino County employees. The Dec. 2 event was held at the Inland Regional Center, a facility which coordinates services for people with disabilities, houses government offices, and provides conference space to about 600 people daily.
Larson would not say how many victims his brief will represent, but they include family of those who died, survivors, and witnesses. They are asking Apple to comply with a court order to provide access to Farook’s work iPhone in the hopes that it can bring closure, and answer the lingering questions and fears since the attack, he said.
“This is the largest act of terrorism in the United States since 9/11,” Larson said. “For something like this to happen, it is so random, so unexpected, it really hits deep.”
He added he was a supporter of privacy rights, but this particular case had received exhaustive court review and had a narrow focus.
“We’re talking about the privacy interests of a dead, murderous terrorist who was using an iPhone that was the property of San Bernardino County,” Larson said.
Apple, however, has said the court order would have sweeping implications that would make all iPhone users less secure. The company is challenging the court order, and a hearing is scheduled for March 22.
On Sunday, FBI Director James Comey released a statement that also pointed to the interests of the victims.
“The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” Comey said. “It is about the victims and justice.”
Comey reiterated that the FBI was not seeking the power to break Apple’s encryption; rather, he said, the FBI wanted the chance to guess Farook’s particular phone’s passcode, as allowed by a search warrant, without it wiping its data.
“Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists,” Comey said. “Maybe it doesn’t. But we can't look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don't follow this lead.”
He added that as technology has advanced, new tensions have arisen between privacy and public safety. Ultimately, Comey said, the American people should settle the issue, rather than corporations like Apple or government agencies like the FBI.
“We shouldn't drift to a place – or be pushed to a place by the loudest voices – because finding the right place, the right balance, will matter to every American for a very long time.”