Apple versus the FBI isn’t just about one phone.
A court filing unsealed Tuesday revealed that the U.S. Justice Department has sought court orders to force Apple to help investigators extract data from iOS devices in more than a dozen cases—ones similar to the present quarrel over unlocking an encrypted iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters.
Apple lawyer Marc Zwillinger last week submitted the letter to a federal judge in New York. The document catalogues a number of cases dating back as far as October in which federal investigators have requested Apple’s help in cracking devices.
According to the filing, the federal government has sought access to data on hardware including an iPhone 3, an iPhone 6 Plus, and even a relatively elderly iPad 2 that used software ranging from iOS 4.2.1 to iOS 9.1. The prosecutors in these cases have all based their authority on the All Writs Act, a law first enacted in 1789, on which the San Bernardino case also rests.
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Apple objected to assisting the FBI in all the cases, except two outstanding ones in which the company said it is awaiting a new warrant and a copy of a ruling. Four of the cases arose in Illinois, three in New York, two in Ohio, two in California, and one in Massachusetts. (Some involve multiple devices.)
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Unlike the high profile San Bernardino case, the other investigations are apparently not terrorism-related, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing unnamed sources.
In a post on the national security blog Lawfare, FBI director James Comey insisted that the San Bernardino case “isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.” Apple CEO Tim Cook, however, has disagreed, writing in a letter to customers that the outcome of this particular case will have “implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”
If compelled to help undermine the security features on the phone in the San Bernardino case, Apple
fears it may lose legal ground in resisting to do so in other investigations.