The legal battle between FBI and Apple has been making headlines over the past few weeks, adding more fuel to the privacy and encryption debate that was already on fire across the U.S.
Despite the fact that the federal agency insists this recent case of terrorism was limited in scope, it turns out that U.S. government agencies have filed more than 70 orders since 2008, all requesting Apple or Google to unlock mobile devices for law enforcement purposes.
In the case of the San Bernardino shooter – the most recent and the most mediatized – the Department of Justice eventually dropped its case against Apple. The FBI seems to have found a way to break into the criminal’s iPhone without assistance.
But according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, there are 64 cases where representatives of the DOJ have sought help from Google or Apple to unlock mobile devices.
These cases were traceable because they were all based on All Writs Act orders. The ACLU’s cases have been identified by Apple lawyer Marc Zwillinger in mid-February.
According to 1789 All Writs Act, courts are allowed to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”
This discovery is of crucial value considering that the FBI and the DOJ insisted that the San Bernardino case was just one time the federal agency has required Apple to break into an iPhone.
For example, FBI Director James Comey wrote in February that the Apple California case was “narrow,” and it wasn’t trying in any way to “set a precedent or send any kind of message.”
He went on saying, “The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”
An FBI spokesman explained that many of the 64 cases identified by the ACLU involved the Drug Enforcement Administration, a part of the DOJ, or the Department of Homeland Security.
Google has been targeted in nine of the cases on the list of the ACLU, but a company spokesman said that Google received no order “like the one Apple recently fought that demands we build new tools that actively compromise our products’ security.”
One notable difference between this recent case and the ones identified by ACLU is that many of the older cases involve illegal drugs and not terrorism.
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