Feds Want Apple to Break In to at Least 12 Other Phones

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Key Speakers At The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)
Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg Finance LP/Getty Images

Seemingly contrary to federal assurances that the FBI’s request that Apple help it break into Syed Farook’s iPhone would be a one-and-done deal, the Department of Justice is currently pursuing court orders to compel Apple to help law enforcement break into locked phones in about a dozen different cases around the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports.

Prosecutors in all of the cases the DOJ is requesting Apple assist authorities with used the same broad 18th-century law, the All Writs Act, that the government uses when it “seeks to fill in a statutory gap that Congress has failed to consider,” a Brooklyn federal judge wrote in an October order. Cook specifically addressed the Act in a memo to Apple employees obtained by BuzzFeed, writing, “We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy and personal freedoms.”

The DOJ also accused Apple, in a court filing yesterday in a completely different case, of being misleading about its past compliance with orders directed under the All Writs Act. “Apple stated that it had “objected” to some of the orders,” Robert Capers, who replaced Loretta Lynch as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, wrote. “That is misleading. Apple did not file objections to any of the orders, seek an opportunity to be heard from the court, or otherwise seek judicial relief.” The New York Times reported on Sunday that Apple regularly complies with court orders to allow federal prosecutors into iCloud accounts.

In an interview with the Financial Times published this morning (but presumably conducted before the DOJ’s latest move), Bill Gates appeared to side with the FBI. “This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” he said. “They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case … It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said ‘don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.’” As of press time Apple has yet to respond to Gates’s assertion that the iPhone security system is as arbitrary as some ribbon tied around a hard drive. Gates later walked back his statements (a bit) on Bloomberg TV.