clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Apple says the Justice Department is using the law as an 'all-powerful magic wand'

New, 19 comments

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

In a filing entered today in Central California district court, Apple says the government wants the law to act as "an all-powerful magic wand" that could force the company into assisting law enforcement. The argument comes in response to FBI demands for Apple to break security on an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino shooting, giving investigators access to data stored locally on the phone. Apple has resisted those demands, in part arguing that Congress had explicitly denied those powers to the government.

Apple says the Founders would be "appalled"

Today's filing focuses on the government's use of the All Writs Act, which it argues can be used to compel Apple to help in its investigation. Apple writes that the government's interpretation of the Act is far too broad, suggesting the department and FBI want the power to "order private parties to do virtually anything." The brief says the interpretation is an attempt "to rewrite history" that would leave the founders of the United States "appalled."

Apple's brief, the final before a hearing later this month, comes in response to a filing made by the government on Thursday, which minimized the danger posed by the proposed order. That filing also emphasized Apple's previous cooperation with Chinese wireless standards, a move Apple's general counsel described as an attempt to "vilify Apple."

Apple hits back at claim that its fight is a marketing stunt

Apple also hit back at the government's argument that the company was fighting the order as a marketing maneuver. In a declaration filed by senior director of worldwide advertising and planning Robert Ferrini, Apple points to how it has advertised its products since the release of iOS 8 — a total of 1,793 ads, the company writes. "Of those advertisements, not a single one has ever advertised or promoted the ability of Apple’s software to block law enforcement requests for access to the contents of Apple devices," the declaration reads.

The company's stance in the fight has already drawn commentary from across the political spectrum. Speaking to an audience at SXSW, President Obama urged a compromise between technologists and law enforcement. "My conclusion so far is you cannot take an absolutist view own this," the president said. "If your argument is strong encryption no matter what, and we can and should in fact create black boxes, that I think does not strike the kind of balance we have lived with for 200, 300 years."

"This case arises in a difficult context after a terrible tragedy," Apple writes in today's brief. "But it is in just such highly-charged and emotional cases that the courts must zealously guard civil liberties and the rule of law and reject government overreaching. This Court should therefore deny the government's request and vacate the order."

Apple Reply Brief

Ferrini Declaration