The Justice Department is demanding Apple’s help in unlocking at least nine iPhones nationwide in addition to the phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers.
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is demanding Apple’s help in unlocking at least nine iPhones nationwide in addition to the phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., attackers.
The disclosure appears to buttress the company’s concerns that the dispute could pose a threat to encryption safeguards that goes well beyond the single California case.
Apple is fighting the government’s demands in at least seven of the other nine cases, Marc J. Zwillinger, a lawyer for the company, said in a letter unsealed in federal court Tuesday.
“Apple has not agreed to perform any services on the devices,” Zwillinger wrote. Starting in December, the letter says, Apple has in a number of cases objected to the Justice Department’s efforts to force its cooperation through a 1789 statute known as the All Writs Act, which says courts can require actions to comply with their orders.
In the San Bernardino case, prosecutors have cast their demands for Apple to help them unlock the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook — one of the attackers in the December rampage, in which 14 people were killed — as a limited effort in response to an unusual situation.
Still, “no one should be surprised that we’re investigating other cases and looking for assistance in those other cases,” a law-enforcement official said Tuesday.
Since challenging a judge’s demand in the San Bernardino case, which called for Apple to create a special tool to help investigators more easily crack the phone’s pass code, the company has repeatedly asserted that such a move could not be done in isolation.
“Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, said in a letter to customers. And in a note on its website Monday, Apple said law-enforcement agencies nationwide “have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case.”
Because a number of the newly disclosed cases remain sealed, Apple’s letter did not describe the types of crimes at issue. But they appear to involve run-of-the-mill prosecutions for offenses like drug trafficking and pornography, rather than a high-profile terrorism investigation, officials said.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Tuesday weighed in on the controversy and disputed an earlier report suggesting that he supports the U.S. government in its clash with Apple.
“That doesn’t state my view on this,” Gates said in an interview on “Bloomberg Go.” “The extreme view that government always gets everything, nobody supports that. Having the government be blind, people don’t support that.”
The Financial Times had reported Tuesday morning that Gates sided with the U.S. government, saying that a court order requiring Apple to help unlock the phone of a terrorist involved in a December attack was a one-time request and “no different” from accessing bank and telephone records.
It’s important to strike the right balance between the government getting to see everything vs. nothing, Gates said on “Bloomberg Go.” While Apple has said it would comply with the courts’ final decision, bringing the issue to the public provides an opportunity to discuss when the government has a right to know, he said.
“You don’t just want to take the minute after a terrorist event and swing that direction, nor do you want to completely swing away from government access when you have some abuse,” he said. “You want to strike that balance that the United States leads and setting an example.”