"Several" victims of the December attack in San Bernardino will side with federal government in its escalating battle with Apple over an encrypted iPhone, a lawyer representing those victims told NBC News Monday.
The lawyer, Stephen Larson, said he expects to file an amicus brief in support of the government by early March, arguing that the victims he represents have an interest in the information contained on an iPhone 5C that belonged to one of the attackers, Syed Rizwan Farook.
Farook, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and injured 22 at a facility for the developmentally disabled on Dec. 2. So far, the FBI has been unable to break through Farook's password and Apple — citing privacy concerns — has refused to help.
"The interest of the victims is broader" than those of law enforcement, Larson said. "On an emotional level, they have a desire for information: why did this happen? Why were they targeted?"
Larson, a former federal judge and prosecutor himself, declined to say how many people he is representing or who they are.
But he said that they fall into three categories: family members of victims, people who survived, and people who observed.
Federal authorities fear that too many failed attempts to break into Farook's phone will cause it to "essentially self-destruct," as FBI Director James Comey has put it.
So last Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Apple to comply with FBI investigators. The next day, the technology giant's CEO Tim Cook charged that doing so would "build a backdoor to the iPhone" that could be easily be exploited and would compromise the security of millions of customers.
On Friday, federal prosecutors filed a motion seeking to force Apple to comply with the order, and on Sunday, FBI Director James Comey tried to calm the dispute, saying in a statement, "I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other."