ACLU: FBI’s Smartphone Push Goes Far Beyond San Bernardino

The American Civil Liberties Union says dozens of pending cases share similarities with the high-profile San Bernardino case that turned into a showdown between the FBI and Apple over access to a terror suspect's cellphone.

The closely watched legal battle between Apple and the FBI likely won’t be the last over the issue of smartphone encryption.

The highly public conflict between the tech giant and the federal government over whether Apple should decrypt a cellphone that is evidence in the criminal investigation into the San Bernardino terror attack was rendered moot late last month when investigators hacked the suspect’s iPhone. But the American Civil Liberties Union says the case is just one of 63 in which the FBI has invoked the All Writs Act, a 1789 law that the bureau argues empowers courts to issue orders to assist in criminal cases.

The cases, all of which involve either Apple or Google, are highlighted on an interactive map the ACLU released this week. Apple says it’s currently facing 12 additional cases, the ACLU reports, and the organization’s Massachusetts chapter has taken legal action to uncover details about an additional case in that state.

(Google, in comments to the Wall Street Journal, denied that it has received any orders similar to the one Apple received compelling it to build a new tool to help investigators.)

“The FBI wants you to think that it will use the All Writs Act only in extraordinary cases to force tech companies to assist in the unlocking of phones,” ACLU attorney Eliza Sweren-Becker wrote in a blog post. “Turns out, these kinds of orders have actually become quite ordinary.”

Tech industry groups rallied behind Apple as it resisted the FBI’s demands for help accessing the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. Some of those groups, including the Computer and Communications Industry Association, don’t believe the resolution of that  case will end the pressure on tech companies to assist law enforcement with device decryption in criminal cases.

“There’s a clash of values and interests that I think will continue,” CCIA President and CEO Ed Black told the Associated Press.

In a separate case in New York, a judge rejected the government’s All Writs Act argument.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!