California Senate candidates split on iPhone access fight

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Apple Inc.'s fight with the FBI over accessing a locked iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino terror attack created a split Thursday between the leading Democrats in California's U.S. Senate race.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez on Thursday said she supports Apple's decision to contest an order to create software to help the FBI hack into the encrypted iPhone. A day earlier, Attorney General Kamala Harris said she's not picking sides in the high-stakes dispute that could establish new legal boundaries between national security and digital privacy.

"I fully support Apple's decision to fight the court order through the judicial process," Sanchez said in a statement.

The Orange County congresswoman added that Congress should immediately step in to take up broader policy issues because "courts do not have the investigative resources and the ability to consider all of the far-reaching potential implications."

The divergent positions provide voters with another distinction between the two candidates, who as fellow Democrats share similar agendas, including support for immigration reform and the national health care overhaul. The dispute with the FBI is being closely watched in California, home to Apple, Google and Facebook.

Apple on Thursday asked a federal magistrate to reverse her order that the company help the FBI hack into the iPhone, accusing the federal government of seeking "dangerous power" through the courts and of trampling on its constitutional rights.

In her statement, Sanchez said she is concerned that the help the government is seeking could expose vulnerabilities in the technology that might become an open door for hackers and hostile governments.

If the government can compel Apple to help unlock the iPhone's data "what happens when China does the same?" she asked.

Harris told reporters in Norwalk on Wednesday that a solution is needed that balances the interests of public safety with a technology industry that frequently faces questions about consumer privacy and snooping.

"I don't think it's as simple as taking one side or the other," Harris said.

Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire Dec. 2 at a holiday meeting of his San Bernardino County co-workers. They died hours later in a shootout with police. The 14 people killed marked the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Candidates in the June primary are competing for one of two spots in the November election. Under California's unusual rules, only the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.

Democrats are favored to hold the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California. Harris has held a lead in fundraising and independent polling, trailed by Sanchez. Republican candidates, including former state GOP chairmen Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, have lagged in polls and fundraising.

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