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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.

"The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that's simply not true," Cook contended. "Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices."

The DOJ has argued that what it's asked Apple to do for Farook's iPhone is a one-time deal. "[This] order is tailored for and limited to this particular phone," government lawyers wrote in a motion submitted to the San Bernardino case's judge last Friday. "Apple's speculative policy concerns regarding possible consequences from compliance with the Order in this matter merit little weight," the DOJ added in the same motion.

Some outside experts have viewed the government's choosing of the San Bernardino case as calculated. ""This was a very strategic decision by the FBI," said Robert Cattanach in an interview last week. Cattanach is a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney who previously worked as a trial attorney for the DOJ. "I think it was very calculated on the part of the FBI: 'Let's get a win here.'"

Cattanach also wondered how the use of the All Writs Act would play out if Apple was compelled to assist the FBI, and in fact, did so. "It is a slippery slope," Cattanach said. "No one can predict how this precedent will be used next."

For the dozen other orders, Apple "has not agreed to perform any services on the devices to which those requests are directed," according to Zwillinger.

The DOJ put it differently.

"In most of the cases, rather than challenge the orders in court, Apple simply deferred complying with them, without seeking appropriate judicial relief," the government said in its Monday letter to Orenstein. "In one case, Apple indicated that it would assist the government in accessing a passcode-locked device once the government provided it with a new copy of the order's language in a different format.

"Only more recently, in light of the public attention surrounding an All Writs Act order issued in connection with the investigation into the shootings in San Bernardino, California, has Apple indicated that it will seek judicial relief, in that matter," the DOJ added. "Apple's position has been inconsistent at best."

 

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