FBI director James Comey – who had previously claimed that “the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent” – has now admitted that it would. The Guardian reports that Comey made the admission when testifying under oath yesterday to a Congress committee.

The ultimate outcome of the Apple-FBI showdown is likely to “guide how other courts handle similar requests”, James Comey told a congressional intelligence panel on Thursday, a softening of his flat insistence on Sunday that the FBI was not attempting to “set a precedent”.

Asked if it was true that police departments around the country also wanted to gain access to locked iPhones, he agreed that it was …

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is one of those who has said his office is planning to bring similar cases to court, the Guardian reporting that he has 175 cases of locked iPhones awaiting the outcome of the FBI case.

Comey also appears to be going easier on Apple.

“There are no demons here,” said Comey, striking a more conciliatory tone than that of the Justice Department’s accusation in court last week that Apple was placing “marketing” over security.

Apple’s top lawyer Brian Sewell is due to testify before the same committee next week. Tim Cook has said that creating a tool to unlock iPhones is “the software equivalent of cancer.”

The American public, however, still sides with the FBI – though not decisively so. The latest poll (via The Verge) of just under 2000 registered voters shows that 51% say Apple should unlock the phone, while 33% think it shouldn’t (and 16% are undecided). San Bernardino victims and families of the victims are also divided.

CNET reports that all five remaining Republican Presidential candidates unsurprisingly come down on the side of the FBI, with Marco Rubio the most aggressive in his language.

“Apple doesn’t want to do it [hack the phone] because they think it hurts their brand,” Rubio insisted. “Well, let me tell you their brand is not superior to the United State of America.”

Bizarrely, this appeared to contradict a statement he made last week that Apple “wasn’t necessarily in the wrong.”

Catch up on all our coverage of the case in the links below.

  • U.S. judge orders Apple to help FBI access data on San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone 5c
  • Apple publishes letter responding to FBI iPhone unlock demand: ‘an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers’
  • Google CEO Pichai appears to side with Apple in series of vague tweets on FBI encryption battle
  • Security firm shows how Apple could bypass iPhone security to comply with FBI request
  • Opinion: How likely is Apple to succeed in resisting the FBI court order?
  • Should Apple comply with FBI request to bypass San Bernardino gunman’s iPhone? [Poll]
  • Civil rights groups and tech companies express support for Apple’s stand against the FBI
  • Opinion: Why an iPhone master key is better than a backdoor, but still too dangerous
  • Petition urges White House to support Apple in blocking government access to locked iPhones
  • Senate Intelligence Committee considering bill to penalize companies refusing to decrypt user device
  • Report: Apple to get more time to formally respond to government’s request for access to locked iPhone
  • Apple/FBI fight looks destined to go all the way to the Supreme Court as more background is revealed
  • Department of Justice files motion to force Apple to comply with FBI iPhone backdoor request
  • Apple implies FBI screwup: iPhone Apple ID password changed in govt possession, backdoor unnecessary
  • FBI explains why it changed Apple ID password in iPhone unlock case, retrieved iCloud backups up to October 19 but wants more
  • San Bernardino victims divided on iPhone issue as FBI claims not trying to set a precedent
  • Apple/FBI: Tim Cook sends memo to employees, wants government to drop All Writs Act demands, posts customer FAQ
  • Edward Snowden describes how the FBI could physically extract passcode from iPhone chip without Apple’s help
  • Mark Zuckerberg sides w/ Apple in encryption battle as poll suggests public supports FBI
  • Report says DOJ seeking data from ‘about’ 12 other iPhones as Bill Gates sides with FBI
  • Report: Apple to argue that encryption battle with FBI should be decided by Congress
  • Bloomberg: Apple will argue that the digital signature it uses to validate code is protected as free speech
  • Tim Cook says tool to unlock iPhone is the ‘software equivalent of cancer’ in new interview
  • Apple working on stronger iCloud backup encryption and iPhone security to counter FBI unlock requests
  • Apple’s top lawyer Bruce Sewell to testify before Congress over encryption next week
  • Apple officially responds to court request to comply with FBI in San Bernardino iPhone case
  • Report: Google, Twitter, Facebook, & Microsoft to file court motions officially supporting Apple in FBI fight

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

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