WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- FBI Director James Comey defended his agency's legal demand ordering Apple to break into the cellphone data of one of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers, stating the move is "about the victims and justice."
The FBI and Apple have been at odds since last week when Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company was going to fight against a court order that would force the tech giant to hack into an iPhone through its iOS 9 operating system. Cook said the FBI's request would force his company to create a "back door" into the cellphone data, a situation he called "chilling" and "dangerous."
In a blog post Sunday, Comey said the FBI's request is "about victims and justice" and not "about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message."
"Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That's what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI," Comey writes in the post.
Comey indirectly rejected Cook's statement that the FBI's order would force the creation of a "back door," which Cook said threatened the security of Apple customers.
"We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it. We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land," Comey wrote.
But Cook previously stated that if Apple were to follow the order and remove security features while adding new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically -- as per the FBI's request -- all iPhones could be at risk.
"In the wrong hands, this software -- which does not exist today -- would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession," Cook wrote last week. "This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by 'brute force,' trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer."
Comey urged people to "stop saying the world is ending" and instead engage in a discussion about the case.
"I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. 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," Comey added. "So I hope folks will remember what terrorists did to innocent Americans at a San Bernardino office gathering and why the FBI simply must do all we can under the law to investigate that."
Cook on Monday sent an email to employees in which he detailed Apple's refusal to comply with the FBI's request as an argument based on civil liberties.
"This case is about much more than a single phone or a single investigation, so when we received the government's order we knew we had to speak out. At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people, and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone's civil liberties," Cook wrote in the email. "We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands ... and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms."
The FBI on Saturday said essential information could have been lost when a password of the San Bernardino shooter's phone reset earlier in the investigation.