PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s two U.S. senators differ on the high-profile conflict between the federal government and Apple over access to data on a cellphone used by a deceased California couple who have been linked to international terrorists.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said Thursday that Apple should reconsider making the information on the phone available to federal anti-terrorism investigators to ensure national security.

But Collins’ counterpart, U.S. Sen. Angus King, said Thursday that the issue raises complex legal and constitutional questions. King expects the Senate Intelligence Committee to consider legislation to address situations such as Apple’s standoff with President Barack Obama’s administration over customer privacy.

The court fight between the FBI and the technology giant over access to a secure cellphone used by the husband and wife who shot and killed 14 people in California last year has sparked the latest national debate on balancing national security against privacy rights.

King, a Maine independent who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said its leaders will discuss legislation that could clarify when the government gets access to encrypted phone data, but “whether we’ll get to the point of a bill on the floor, I don’t know.”

Still, Congress should settle the issue, he said.

“I’m not sure the place to make this broad policy decision is in a courtroom in California because it has such broad implications,” King said after a roundtable with police in Portland.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to help the government access encrypted data on an iPhone used by Rizwan Farook, who was killed in a firefight with police along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, after their attack.

Both sympathized with the terrorist Islamic State. Since then, the FBI has been investigating their potential ties to terrorist groups and the bureau has argued it needs access to the iPhone.

The FBI has a warrant, but it can’t access the phone’s encrypted content because it can’t break the four-digit numeric passcode that locks it. Apple doesn’t keep those passwords, so it would need to build software allowing it to bypass security features.

Citing a 1789 law that often is used to justify court orders, the government argued it only wants access to one phone. But Apple CEO Tim Cook released a defiant Tuesday statement saying once created, the software “could be used over and over again.”

King gave no position on the court order, but he said he’s “not persuaded” by the government’s argument that this decision would just pertain to one phone.

Collins disagrees.

“If there were ever a case in which a tech company should be cooperating with an FBI investigation, this is it,” she said during an interview Thursday.

She argued that because the phone was owned by Farook’s employer, the county, which gave permission for the FBI to examine its contents, and the extreme nature of the crime, there should be no reason to refuse to comply with the court order.

“This is a legal court order that is very narrowly tailored to this case in which the terrorists killed 14 people and wounded 22,” she said. “There are 44 days of information on that phone that we cannot access.”

That content could reveal information about future attacks or other parties involved in planning the San Bernardino shootings.

“This in no way threatens the privacy rights of Americans,” she argued, adding that lawmakers need to have more in-depth discussions about what authority law enforcement has to examine technology in connection with criminal investigations.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a Wednesday statement she’s “uncomfortable with the precedent” the judge’s order could set.

She said “issues of encryption and data security are not black and white” and Congress should work to pass laws resolving the issue so centuries-old precedent isn’t relied upon.

“Clearly the laws on these issues could use some updating,” Pingree said.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, was more noncommittal in a Wednesday statement, saying while the government must have a strategy to disrupt terrorist recruiting methods, “we must also ensure that individuals’ freedoms and privacy are not infringed.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...