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US trying to force Apple to unlock ‘about a dozen’ other iPhones, says WSJ

US trying to force Apple to unlock ‘about a dozen’ other iPhones, says WSJ

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In addition to the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, the US government is pursuing court orders to force Apple to help bypass the security passcodes of "about a dozen" other iPhones, the Wall Street Journal reports. The other cases don't involve terror charges, the Journal's sources say, but prosecutors involved have also sought to use the same 220-year-old law — the All Writs Act of 1789 — to access the phones in question.

The FBI has argued that it only wants Apple to allow it to "guess" the passcode for the San Bernardino iPhone, but that innocuous-sounding process involves Apple performing a rewrite of the phone's iOS software, allowing the Bureau to use brute-force techniques to crack the passcode that might otherwise take years. The agency says it only wants this process performed on this one specific iPhone, but privacy advocates could see the additional cases as the US government already attempting to overreach this mandate.

It's not clear yet what the other cases involve

At this point, however, it's not clear what the dozen-or-so cases actually entail, nor what prosecutors are asking Apple to do exactly, or why Apple is pushing back. The FBI has complained that Apple is simply resisting its demand to unlock the phone so as not to "tarnish the Apple brand," but the company says if it gives in and allows the FBI to access the phone with "absent clear legal authority to do so," it would breach its consumers' trust.

Apple regularly assists law enforcement by helping authorities extract information from both on and off the device — from iCloud backups, for example — but it has pushed back in the San Bernardino case because the FBI is attempting to breach encryption methods introduced in newer versions of its iOS software. In cases involving phones running iOS 7 and earlier, Apple can pull out information without actively unlocking the phone for law enforcement, but iOS 8 introduced encryption linked to the passcode that made this impossible. We don't yet know which operating system the dozen other iPhones were running, but the WSJ says that many of them are using older software than iOS 9.