Roberto Velasco, the father of one of the victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, said that he didn’t have to think long before agreeing to have his name added to a legal filing in support of a judge’s order that Apple Inc. help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone as part of its investigation.
"It is important to me to have my name in there," he told The Associated Press. "I lost my daughter in this and I want the court to see that I am seeking justice for my daughter."
Yvette Velasco, 27, was killed when Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people at an office holiday party in December before they died in a gun battle with police. The couple, who according to the government was said at least partly inspired by the Islamic State, used a county-issued iPhone 5c.
Stephen Larson, a Los Angeles attorney who represents several families of victims and other employees affected by the attack, said he will file a brief supporting the Justice Department before March 3.
The victims "have questions that go simply beyond the criminal investigation ... in terms of why this happened, how this happened, why they were targeted, is there anything about them on the iPhone — things that are more of a personal victim" view, Larson said.
Velasco and other family members said the phone could reveal other extremist plots or that other people were involved in planning the San Bernardino attack.
"The only way to find out is to open up that phone and get in there," he said. "A lot of the families of the victims, we're kind of angry and confused as to why Apple is refusing to do this."
The appeal from victims' family members gives the Justice Department additional support in a case that has sparked a national debate over digital privacy rights and national security interests. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple last week to assist investigators by creating specialized software that would let the FBI rapidly test random passcode combinations to try to unlock the iPhone and view data stored on it.
The couple physically destroyed two personal phones so completely that the FBI has been unable to recover information from them.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the FBI's request is "quite limited in scope" and called it "an effective way for the FBI to follow their regular procedure as they conduct this independent investigation, but also stay true to the kinds of principles that the president has discussed publicly about the need for robust encryption methods."
Earnest said the sides needed to hash things out in court and questioned whether Congress — as Apple and others have suggested — would be an effective medium for solving issues evoked by the court order.
Farook, the male shooter, worked as a county health inspector. Larson said the government has a strong case because of Farook's diminished privacy interests as a "dead, murderous terrorist" and because the phone was owned by his employer, the county government. "You're weighing that against the interest of enforcement in an investigation and the victims and their interest in obtaining this knowledge," he said.
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook has said that creating such software is a dangerous precedent that would threaten data security for millions by making essentially a master key that could later be duplicated and used against other phones.
Gregory Clayborn, whose 27-year-old daughter, Sierra, died in the attack, said he hasn't been asked to join the case but believes Apple is obligated to unlock the phone.
"This makes me a little bit angry with Apple," Clayborn said. "It makes me question their interest in the safety of this country."
Clayborn said he understands Apple's concerns, but unlocking one phone for the FBI, he said, is "as simple as it gets."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday expressed his support for Apple while in Barcelona, Spain, to speak at the Mobile World Congress, saying he believes in helping the government in its fight against terrorism but that encryption is important.
"I don't think that back doors into encryption is going to increase security or is in the direction the world is going," he said.
Apple's supporters planned to protest the FBI's demands on Tuesday evening outside Apple's stories in about 50 cities in the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Hong Kong.
A Pew Research Center survey found that 51 percent of Americans said Apple should unlock the iPhone, while 38 percent said Apple should not — and that it should ensure the security of user information. The remainder gave no opinion. The telephone survey was conducted Feb. 18 through Feb. 21 among 1,002 adults.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.