This Map Shows How the Apple-FBI Fight Was About Much More Than One Phone

All Writs Act Orders for Assistance From Tech Companies

Update: 4/1/2016:  The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a motion seeking to unseal the docket for the suspected All Writs Act case in that state, arguing that the public should have access to case information to inform the debate on whether law enforcement can conscript technology companies to undermine device security.

The government insisted that its effort to force Apple to help break into an iPhone as part of the investigation into the 2015 San Bernardino shootings was just about that one case. Even though the FBI no longer needs Apple’s help in that case, the FBI’s request was part of a sustained government effort to exercise novel law enforcement power.

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At the heart of the legal battle is the All Writs Act, originally passed in 1789, which gives courts the authority to issue orders necessary to enforce other lawful orders or decisions. We’ve found that the government has been using the law to force tech companies to help unlock their customers’ devices in dozens of cases since 2008. We’ve gathered all of those cases together on an interactive map we published today.

After the Justice Department revealed in a case in Brooklyn that it had already secured approximately 70 such orders, the ACLU and the ACLU of Massachusetts went digging for them. We uncovered 63 confirmed cases in which the government applied for an order under the All Writs Act to compel Apple or Google to provide assistance in accessing data stored on a mobile device. To the extent we know about the underlying facts, these cases predominantly arise out of investigations into drug crimes.

The map identifies where and when these cases have arisen, their docket numbers, and which federal agency conducted the investigation. Public court documents associated with the cases can be found here. The ACLU expects to learn about additional All Writs Act cases in response to our FOIA requests — filed jointly with the Stanford Center for Internet and Society — and we will update this map as more information becomes available.

There are even more cases out there. In addition to the 63 confirmed cases, we know of up to 13 additional cases, which are reflected on the map. Apple has identified 12 pending cases (though their docket numbers remain unknown), and we uncovered one case in Massachusetts, which has not yet been confirmed because of a lack of publicly available information.

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. Turns out, these kinds of orders have actually become quite ordinary.

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As long as they have legitimate court orders and it's clear what they are searching for, we shouldn't be overly concerned.


Except we all should be concerned because they have always had the means of hacking into the phone. They already have the data they want and are just looking for a means to use the data. A court precedent would give them free reign.

Do you really believe that during the time it was in the news that they were collecting metadata on cell phones, that they only had access to the metadata? No, they can listen in on any call they want. It's not like a landline where they need a wiretap. Cellphones operate by transmitting their signal through the air using publically accessible algorithms. It's very easy to build a receiver and tune to the right frequency to hear voice and capture data (text, etc).

Should they be allowed to do this? No. Can they? Yes.


As long as it doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment, who gives a shit?? By the way, the Fourth Amendment never contemplated that there should EVER be a place or thing free from REASONABLE search and seizure by the government, that is, with probable cause and warrant signed by an independent magistrate. Under the Fourth Amendment they can search your house, that's ok.....they can take your DNA if arrested, that's ok.....but cell phones should enjoy a greater expectation of privacy?? W.....T......F.


Except that there are places that are free from search...
Journalists notes are warrant proof - The Privacy Protection Act of 1980
Diplomatic pouches are warrant proof - Article 27.3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
Medical Records are warrant proof in some cases when protected by Doctor-Patient privilege laws in many states.

The 4th Amendment didn't grant rights to the Government, in fact none of the Bill of Rights were meant to be construed as enabling the Government to do anything. They specifically provide protections to the People from the Government.
If a company possesses information, they should be reasonably expected to provide it, I agree. But if that data is only on a persons device and that device has protections built into it that are simply very very difficult to break, I think it's very UNREASONABLE to demand that any company deploy massive resources on behalf of the government. The US government already has people who have this level of expertise, if they want to crack a phone, those people should be doing it. (Hint: NSA)


This isn't what this is about. With technology and encryption, the technical fact is that you either have privacy or you don't. With the Fourth Amendment, your house may be searched with a *reasonable* search and seizure *by the government, and no one else&; with a phone, this is simply not possible. Either your house has a door, which you can choose to open (or not), or you don't have a door at all.

The government is interested in taking the doors off of people's homes so they can't keep them shut in case they have something to hide. And when the door comes off your house, you don't get to choose who you can keep our or not. If the government wins, our phones have no security at all; sure, you can't keep the government out in those reasonable cases (sucks for criminals), but you also can't keep them out in unreasonable cases, or keep out hackers, or literally anyone else.


Of course there are 100% warrentless spaces in the United States. For example, a diplomatic pouch. Don't let facts get in the way of reason and logic.


There was no problem with a search warrant here. Apple complied and gave them everything they could. The problem is, the government went back to Apple to order them to create new software that would undo the security they had already put in place. This kind of demand is unprecedented -- or so we were told by the FBI.


Not even remotely true. The confession between parishioner and priest is protected, it can't be broken. Discussions between client and lawyer, largely exempt from any search and seizure. Doctor and patient confidence is an easy third area where discussions and findings are exempt until even after death of the patient. Look at the special master process to use medical records in criminal and civil cases to see how well these records are supposed to be protected.

Doctor Biobrain

Where did you get the idea that cell phones are free from searches? Apple has already been helping law enforcers access phones when they can. This case was about requiring Apple to create a new version of their software that doesn't exist and which could potentially put millions of phones at risk to hackers if it ever got out in the wild. If you didn't know that, you should learn more before commenting.

And you're probably right that the Founding Fathers didn't think of this stuff. That's why we shouldn't be relying entirely on their protections, since they were trying to deal with their issues, not predict ours. I'm sure many of them would find it odd that we continue to limit ourselves this way, instead of amending the Constitution like they did.


It's simple. If there is a backdoor which the government can use, it will be used by hostile actors - both criminal and hostile states. Of course the trade-off of financial insecurity and constant fraud may be something we are willing to sacrifice in return for supporting law enforcement - but the trade-off needs to be understood.


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