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Apple faces at least 12 other All Writs Act orders to force it to unlock more iPhones

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 24, 2016
'Slippery slope,' says former Department of Justice lawyer.

Apple faces at least a dozen other demands by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist in accessing iPhones, according to a recent filing with a New York federal court.

Those 12 cases are in addition to the one involving an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2 before they died in a shootout with police. Apple is fighting a court order that compels it to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conduct a brute-force passcode attack on Farook's iPhone by creating a modified version of iOS.

In all 12 other cases, the government cited the 1789 All Writs Act as the basis for its demand, as it has with the San Bernardino iPhone.

Eleven of those cases were laid out in a Feb. 17 letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, who is hearing a case that also involves the All Writs Act. In that letter, Marc Zwillinger, an outside attorney for Apple, listed nine cases in which authorities asked for the company's assistance during the time when the New York case was pending a decision by Orenstein, from Oct. 8, 2015 to Feb. 9, 2016. Two other All Writs orders, said Zwillinger, were made shortly before that span, on Sept. 24 and Oct. 6.

A twelfth order was pointed out by the government in its own letter to Orenstein Monday.

Orenstein is overseeing a case where the DOJ has asked him to make Apple help in unlocking an alleged drug dealer's iPhone. Unlike the magistrate in California hearing the San Bernardino case, Orenstein has not yet made a ruling.

Even after the defendant in Orenstein's case pleaded guilty, Apple argued that the matter was not moot, and that the issue about Apple's assistance should continue to be heard by the court. "Apple has also been advised that the government intends to continue to invoke the All Writs Act in this and other districts in an attempt to require Apple to assist in bypassing the security of other Apple devices in the government's possession," Zwillinger wrote in an earlier Feb. 12 letter to the court.

The dozen instances of All Writs Act demands bolster Apple's contention that the government has, and will likely continue, to use the aged law to compel assistance.

"Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case," Apple said in a FAQ published Monday, referring to the case involving Farook's iPhone.

Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook also made the point that the government's demand that Apple craft a special version of iOS that would allow FBI access to Farook's iPhone 5C would open the floodgates to other such orders.


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