Apple Tells US Court FBI Request Violates Free Speech

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The iPad maker asks court to reserve its order to help the FBI hack into the iPhone of a terrorist murderer

Apple has asked a US court to reverse its order for the tech firm to help the FBI hack into the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook.

Apple has refused to co-operate over the matter, and said that the move violates its constitutional rights and that law enforcement authorities are seeking “dangerous powers”.

Official Rebuttal

In its court papers, Apple has also argued that the US court’s decision to use a 227-year-old law, to compel Apple to co-operate with the FBI was over-stepping the jurisdiction of the court.

Apple had not been present when that court order was issued.

Apple is referring to the All Writs Act, which was enacted back in 1789. That law is broad in scope, and essentially allows US judges to require actions necessary to enforce their own orders. In this case it ordered Apple to co-operate with the FBI to hack into Farook’s iPhone.

Apple argues this effectively violates its free speech rights, as software is classified under US law as a form of protected speech. This is because in 1996, a federal court ruled that computer code is protected speech under the first amendment.

Therefore, Apple argues, the US Justice Department’s demand violates the constitution.

“The government’s request here creates an unprecedented burden on Apple and violates Apple’s First Amendment rights against compelled speech,” it said.

And Apple auction4said the US court has overstepped its jurisdiction, as the US Congress has previously rejected legislation that would have required US companies to build backdoors into their products, but this is what the US government is now asking Apple to do in this case.

The FBI and White House contend that it only asking for Apple’s help in this particular case, but Apple maintains the request to create a new iOS for the terrorist’s iPhone would allow the US government to access any iPhone it wants to in future.

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Indeed, the DoJ has already asked for help with a dozen suspect iPhones.

“No court has ever authorised what the government now seeks, no law supports such unlimited and sweeping use of the judicial process, and the Constitution forbids it,” Apple said in its filing.

“The government says: “Just this once” and “Just this phone,” said Apple. “But the government knows those statements are not true; indeed the government has filed multiple other applications for similar orders, some of which are pending in other courts.”

But the US Justice Department has hit back, and pointed out that Apple has previously co-operated under orders from the All Writs Act.

“The change has come in Apple’s recent decision to reverse its long-standing cooperation in complying with All Writs Act orders,” department spokesperson Melanie Newman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Tech Support

But Apple is taking no prisoners, and heavily criticised the FBI for making this court order so public.

It also said that FBI director James Comey was being dishonest when he said that the FBI was not seeking to set a precedent.

Apple’s lawyers also blamed the US Authorities for forcing a password reset of Farook’s iCloud account. Earlier this week, Apple’s Tim Cook said that the FBI should have approached it before doing such an action.

And it is worth pointing out that Apple is not alone here.

Its stance has been widely supported by the tech industry, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter.

Indeed, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have all pledged to join a supporting brief, and will reportedly sign a joint amicus brief in support of Apple’s position.

The case will be heard in court on 22 March.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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