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FBI Director James Comey seeks to reassure Congress that Apple fight is not about precedent

The Federal Bureau of Investigation does not believe its battle with Apple will result in a legal precedent that could weaken encryption protections across the board if the bureau prevails, director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Comey said that the case is "unlikely to be a trailblazer," according to Reuters. Apple has taken the opposite position, with chief executive Tim Cook going so far as to call the court order the "software equivalent of cancer."

During his testimony, Comey did acknowledge that any decision handed down in the California matter would be "instructive for other courts" — perhaps a worrying conceit, given that the bureau is seeking similar orders in at least nine other cases.

Still, that is not the agency's goal, Comey told the panel.

Instead, the debate over encryption — which he called the "hardest question I've seen in government" — is "really about who do we want to be as a country and how do we want to govern ourselves," he said.