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Apple, Google Have Been Target of Over 70 Court Orders to Unlock Devices

More to the iPhone story


The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice are no longer trying to force Apple to break into the iPhone 5c handset that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters, but the precedent the U.S. government sought is an issue that will likely come up again. As it turns out, government agencies have a history of trying to legally force Apple and Google to unlock their devices.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) did some digging and found dozens of instances of government agencies using the All Writs Act, originally passed in 1798, as means of obtaining court orders forcing Apple and Google to unlock customers’ devices. This has happened more than 70 times since 2008.

One reason that’s notable is because the FBI attempted to convince the public that using the All Writs Act against Apple was a special scenario. According to what the ALCU uncovered, that’s simply not the case.

“The government insisted that its effort to force Apple to help break into an iPhone as part of the investigation into the 2015 San Bernardino shootings was just about that one case. Even though the FBI no longer needs Apple’s help in that case, the FBI’s request was part of a sustained government effort to exercise novel law enforcement power,” the ALCU stated in a blog post.

These are cases that are spread out across the country, many of which involve drug crimes, not terrorist activities. Nevertheless, the government continues to apply a broad law written over 200 years ago to modern cases involving technical matters.

The ALCU found 63 confirmed cases where government used the All Writs Act against Google or Apple, and it says it knows of up to 13 additional cases. Over two dozen of them are from the past two years.

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