Apple has been served with at least 12 additional requests by the US government in recent months to break into iPhone devices, it has been revealed, undermining the FBI’s argument that it isn’t trying to set a precedent with the San Bernardino case.
Unsealed court documents from Apple attorney Marc Zwillinger in response to a magistrate order from a Brooklyn court show the requests made in various jurisdictions of the US since last October, but all under the controversial All Writs Act.
Apple objected in 10 cases, has requested but not received a copy of the underlying motion in another and is waiting to receive a new warrant in the final case.
Not all of these cases are the same as the one relating to the San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook as they relate to older iPhone models which Apple would be able to extract data from more easily, even if locked.
However, some involve newer iOS versions (iOS 8 or later) with the same kind of strong passcode-based data encryption that Apple claims it is being ordered to effectively backdoor in order to allow the FBI to ‘brute force’ Farook’s device.
This would seem to at least undermine FBI director James Comey’s argument in an open letter over the weekend that “the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.”
In fact, it goes to the heart of the argument between Apple and the FBI.
The tech giant is claiming that if it accedes to this request now it could not only set a legal precedent for the Feds to follow but also potentially lead to the backdoor falling into the hands of cybercriminals, undermining security for millions of its customers.
The FBI claims what it is seeking is “limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve.”
Apple’s position has been backed by several Silicon Valley rivals including Google and Facebook, but Bill Gates is more skeptical – despite denying he is siding with the FBI as reported in the Financial Times.