Loretta Lynch defends FBI in fight with Apple over San Bernardino iPhone

The US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, on Thursday defended the US government’s position in its heated public fight with Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack.

Lynch, the government’s top law enforcement official, made the case in a seven-minute interview on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Thursday.

“I understand why this is important to everybody, because privacy is an important issue for everyone,” Lynch said. “It’s important to me as the attorney general, it’s important to me as a citizen.”

The FBI ordered Apple to unlock an iPhone used by Syed Farook, but the tech giant has engaged in a public battle to defy the warrant.

Colbert said that Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, said that unlocking the phone in accordance with the government’s request is “a slippery slope”. Colbert said of Cook: “He said you can use it to turn on my iPhone and spy on me if you wanted to once you had access.”

“First of all, we’re not asking for a backdoor, nor are we asking anyone to turn anything on to spy on anyone,” Lynch said. “We’re asking them to do is do what their customer wants. The real owner of the phone is the county, the employer of one of the terrorists who’s now dead.

“What we’re asking them to do is to help us disable the password erase function, that basically wipes the phone if you guess the password wrong after 10 times,” Lynch said. “We will try to enter the phone and extract the evidence under the court order we have gotten that is very narrow and very focused.”

She added that she has had “a number of great conversations” with Cook about privacy.

Colbert also asked her about the intense public criticism of how police treat communities of color. Under Lynch’s watch, the Department of Justice has opened civil rights investigation into the Baltimore and Chicago police departments, sued the Ferguson, Missouri, criminal justice system and launched inquiries in police departments across the US.

“If we don’t have the trust and participation of the communities that we are sworn, we will not be able to do our jobs and people will not be safe,” Lynch said.

Colbert asked if Lynch, a black woman, had ever been a victim of “DWB” or “driving while black” – the phenomenon of significantly more black people being pulled over by police while driving.

“I actually have had a very positive relationship with law enforcement,” said Lynch, who has been a prosecutor for more than 20 years.

She acknowledged a caveat to her experience: “When you have a security detail, you tend not to get pulled over, also,” Lynch said.

The interview began with Colbert asking Lynch if she is Batman, because she is “America’s top crime fighter”. Lynch countered: “I’m not Batman, I am the Fifa slayer.”

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