In its first salvo in a court fight that pits digital privacy rights against national security, Apple asked a federal magistrate to reverse her order forcing the company to help the FBI hack into a locked iPhone.
The filing — made a day before its formal objection was due, and as FBI director James Comey defended the FBI stance on Capitol Hill — accused the federal government of seeking “dangerous power” through the courts, and of trampling on the company’s constitutional rights.
The arguments by Apple attorneys built upon those voiced by the company’s chief executive and by supporters in the last week and set the stage for a prolonged fight.
Legal arguments may take the issue to the Supreme Court.
The Justice Department is proposing an unprecedented “boundless interpretation” of the law that, if left unchecked, could have disastrous repercussions, the company warned in a memo submitted to magistrate, Sheri Pym, in California.
The memo aggressively challenges policy justifications forwarded by the Obama administration.
“The government says: ‘Just this once’ and ‘just this phone’. But the government knows those statements are not true,” lawyers for Apple wrote.
The locked iPhone 5C was a work phone linked to Syed Farook, who, with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in a December 2 terror attack in San Bernardino, California, which was at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group.
Two personal cell phones were so badly destroyed that investigators couldn’t retrieve data from them.
Justice Department lawyers were reviewing Apple’s brief and will respond, said spokeswoman, Melanie Newman.
She said Apple had reversed “its longstanding” cooperation with government requests, and that when Justice Department officials want to search a phone or another electronic device, “we narrowly target our request to apply to the individual device” and get a judge’s approval.
The court fight could create precedent and establish new legal boundaries on how technology is dealt with in the national security context, when encrypted devices increasingly proliferate and when the overarching laws governing their use are antiquated.
Over the last year, law enforcement officials have spoken out about their inability to access encrypted data.
In the California case, the phone was found after investigators searched a car with a warrant, after the attack, and couldn’t access the locked iPhone, despite working with Apple and Farook’s employer.
Gov't using All Writs Act court order to compel Apple to produce encryption bypass hacking tools...absent Congress. https://t.co/XpWmDE0MGg— Thomas Drake (@Thomas_Drake1) February 18, 2016
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