Science & Technology Law

Apple opposes judge's order to unlock killer's iPhone, says FBI is misusing the All Writs Act

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Apple is opposing a Los Angeles federal judge’s order requiring it to help the FBI unlock the cellphone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym on Tuesday ordered (PDF) Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance,” including disabling an auto-erase function that kicks in after 10 failed attempts to enter a password, report the New York Times, Ars Technica and Reuters.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in an online statement that the government wants Apple to “build a backdoor to the iPhone” by creating a new operating system that circumvents several security features.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers—including tens of millions of American citizens—from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook wrote.

A government motion (PDF) says the judge is authorized to order the assistance of Apple—a third party—as a result of residual authority granted by the All Writs Act of 1789. The law authorizes federal judges to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”

Cook responds that the government request was an unprecedented use of the law.

China “is watching the dispute closely,” according to the New York Times. China had initially sought encryption keys for devices sold in the country but it backed off amid pressure. The country could renew the demand if Apple complies with Pym’s order.

Typo in fifth paragraph corrected at 9:10 a.m.

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