FBI director admits that Apple precedent would be used to unlock more iPhones

When pressed during testimony before Congress, FBI Director James Comey was forced to admit that his agency would use the precedent from a win in the San Bernardino iPhone case to compel Apple to unlock more phones (via Apple Insider). After weeks spent trying to reassure the public that the government’s request for Apple to break into a terrorist’s iPhone would result in one-time access used only in this particular instance, Comey told members of the House Judiciary Committee, “If the All Writs Act is available to us, and relief under the All Writs Act fits the powers of the statute, of course” his agency would apply the precedent to other cases involving iPhones. The admission underscored Apple’s emphasis on the far-reaching nature of the case, given that sources have said the Department of Justice already has at least a dozen iPhones it wants unlocked. In a ruling handed down Monday, a federal judge sided with Apple in a similar case, arguing that the government doesn’t have the legal authority to use the All Writs Act to gain access to encrypted iPhones.
Comey also testified about the FBI’s botched effort to gain access to the iPhone by changing the password, which inadvertently had the opposite effect of locking investigators out and eliminating other means of gaining access, The New York Times reports. But the director argued none of the surrounding details undermine the government’s request that Apple aid in the investigation, rejecting the assertion that the government was asking Apple to create a “back door” to decrypt its own security measures. “There’s already a door on that iPhone,” Comey said. “Essentially, we’re saying to Apple, ‘Take the vicious guard dog away and let us pick the lock.’” In his own testimony yesterday, Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell reiterated Apple’s position that aiding in unlocking the phone “would set a dangerous precedent for government intrusion on the privacy and safety of its citizens.”

In an interview with Bloomberg, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch rejected that argument, saying the FBI’s request applies the same principles that are used in attempting to gain paper records from a file. “We go to a court and we say there’s a narrow set of evidence that we need and here’s where it’s located,” she said. Ignoring the necessity for Apple to dedicate time and resources to aiding in the search, Lynch added that Apple should treat the case as it would any service call since it’s the phone’s actual owner, San Bernardino’s County Department of Public Health, asking for access. “I think in this case it’s really important to note that the customer — the actual customer of the phone that’s an issue in the instant case — is the one that’s requested Apple’s help,” Lynch said. “So one way to simply resolve this is for Apple to work with its own customer and work out a way to resolve this issue.” Apple doesn’t — and can’t — currently unlock iPhones for customers who have forgotten their passcodes.

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