Government is Using an 18th-Century Act to Push Apple to Assist in Getting Past Encryption

Rafia Shaikh
Posted Dec 2, 2014
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Court documents reveal two federal criminal cases suggesting that the Department of Justice (DoJ) is going to unusual lengths to force tech companies help the government in bypassing encrypted devices. This revelation of newly discovered court documents comes through a report that has found two federal criminal cases in California and New York. These cases have an aim to push companies to assist federal investigations and for that they have used an 18th century All Writs Act.

DoJ pushing Apple to get past encryption:

Encryption remained a high topic this year after two of the major tech corporations, Google and Apple, adopted stronger encryption techniques securing devices and software from unwanted government snooping. This was primarily done as a face-saving tactic by the tech companies out of the equation. Previously, after Edward Snowden’s revelation of mass surveillance technologies being employed by governments world over, tech corporations were pushed by citizens and activists to keep their loyalty with their users and not with the government.

Before the latest encryption techniques, governments would file requests to Google, Apple, Facebook and other such companies for user data. However, now Apple and Google claim they have no way to get into users’ devices as they have handed the keys right in the users’ hands. This, as expected, wasn’t taken positively by the intelligence agencies as much as FBI commented that companies have gone too far. In the latest report, we are now looking at an attempt by the government and agencies who are apparently ready to go to any lengths to get into the users’ devices and access their data without their consent.

Encryption has annoyed many in the government of the United States, including the AG and the director of the FBI. Now DoJ is pursuing a new legal strategy to compel tech corporations in assisting the investigations [read: give out user data without user’s consent]. This report of two DoJ cases in NYC and California comes through Ars Technica showing government’s attempts to bypass encrypted devices.

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In the recent attempt, the DoJ is using an 18th century federal law All Writs Act; the act allows the court to issue a decree to any person or company and enforce them to do something. This Act will help DoJ to get a judge to compel Apple to “bypass the encryption present on its devices for law enforcement purposes”. While the documents remain largely sealed, it has been reported that at least one case in California explicitly mentioned Apple and its device iPhone 5s.

While citizens and privacy activists rejoiced at pushing Apple, Google, and other big corporations in putting users before governments, this will be a few steps back if DoJ succeeds in forcing Apple to break into users’ devices.

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