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Court documents detail 13 ‘similar’ Apple devices under FBI investigation

Court documents detail 13 ‘similar’ Apple devices under FBI investigation

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Court documents unsealed today reveal thirteen different Apple devices currently subject to court order by the FBI. Twelve of the devices are listed in a filing by Apple in response to a New York district court request, while the Department of Justice mentions an additional device in a subsequent letter. The list is necessarily incomplete and includes mostly recent cases, in which Apple objected to the request after December 9th of last year.

It also does not include any devices under order from local law enforcement. Yesterday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said his district alone had possession of 175 different devices that it was unable to decrypt.

The documents come from a New York drug case that's unrelated to the San Bernardino order, although the fundamental legal issue is the same in both cases. In the New York case, Apple was asked to produce a list of iOS devices currently subject to federal investigation, in order to prove that the issues raised were still worth litigating after the initial defendant agreed to a plea bargain. The list was hinted at in a Wall Street Journal report this morning, which attributed the information to anonymous sources.

Eight of the thirteen devices are running iOS 7 or earlier

Notably, eight of the thirteen devices are running iOS 7 or earlier, which means they lack the protections that prevent investigators from easily pulling messaging text and other crucial data. Three others are models without a Secure Enclave: two iPhone 3s and an iPhone 4s. According to the documents, Apple declined to cooperate in the investigation, but it's unclear why the FBI was unable to pull the necessary data itself.

The news also contradicts previous claims from the FBI that investigators are focused only on a single phone. With these cases already ongoing, it would be straightforward to compel Apple's assistance in these additional cases after the legal precedent has been set. It's unclear why the Department of Justice chose to push forward the San Bernardino order rather than one of the other thirteen cases detailed here, although it's likely that the high-profile nature of the case played a role in the decision.

In each case, Apple declined the government’s request to decrypt the devices, although the Department of Justice points out that they did not officially object to the order. "Apple did not file objections to any of the orders, seek an opportunity to be heard from the court, or otherwise seek judicial relief," US Attorney Robert Capers writes in a response to Apple's filing. "In most cases, Apple simply deferred complying with them." As a result, the orders remain in force, and Apple will likely be compelled to comply if the San Bernardino order is successfully enforced.