Capitol Alert

Feinstein calls on Apple to reconsider fighting cell phone court order

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks during an interview with The Associated about the CIA torture report, in her Capitol Hill office last year in Washington.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks during an interview with The Associated about the CIA torture report, in her Capitol Hill office last year in Washington. AP

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Friday strongly denounced Apple’s rebuffing of a court order directing the technology giant to help federal investigators unlock a mobile phone used by an assailant in the deadly terror attack in San Bernardino.

“Apple is not above the laws of the United States,” Feinstein told a lunchtime audience in Sacramento. “Nor should anyone, or any company, be above the laws.”

Federal officials are working to force Apple to obey Wednesday’s order, something CEO Tim Cook has said the Cupertino-based company would not do. Cook called the demand an “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”

Feinstein, vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said while she understands Apple’s motivation, “I would be hopeful that Mr. Cook, whom I have talked to on matters that are similar to this, would reconsider” and work with the federal government to see that the phone is unencrypted.

Her remarks came in a conversation with PPIC President Mark Baldassare for the organization’s series on the future of California.

If I can help people, it’s worth it.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on whether she’ll run again

Feinstein spoke about the growing global threat posed by the terrorist group ISIS, which she said has grown to 36,500 fighters and 11 counties with the goal of wiping out the West. To renew her daily resolve, Feinstein said she keeps on her desk a stack of photos. Topping the pile is a picture of a 6-year-old girl from northern Iraq, dressed in a plaid gingham dress, white tights and Mary Janes, lying on her back with her head chopped off. “Now that is pure evil,” she said.

A member of the Judiciary Committee, she also weighed in on her own political future, a statewide effort to legalize marijuana as well as President Barack Obama’s pending nomination to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. She predicted a “very rocky” confirmation process, and suggested a lower court judge, or nominee with impeccable credentials, would have the best chance of being seated.

“If (Obama’s) nominee has been confirmed before by both political parties that takes a lot of the angst out of it and a lot of the opposition out of it,” she said.

Feinstein said she doesn’t expect to take to take sides between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez in this year’s Senate race to succeed her retiring colleague, Barbara Boxer, at least not in the primary. “I think they are both good candidates,” she said.

On legalizing marijuana, contained in a fall ballot measure being championed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Feinstein demurred: “That may be one of the few issues that I would disagree with Gavin on. I am not really for recreational use of marijuana. Medical use, yes.”

Feinstein, 82, said she has yet to decide if she’ll seek reelection when her fourth term expires in 2018.

“My health is good,” she said. “But I have learned one thing about life: No one ever knows what the future brings.

“I have to be able to get something done ... If I can’t, it’s not worth it,” she added. “If I can help people, it’s worth it.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago