A lot us probably know about Apple’s long drawn legal battle with the Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI). But just in case you have been living in Mars, here is a round up;
Apple refused request from the FBI to brick an iPhone (that was involved in a terrorist plot ) to help law enforcement get a hold of evidence allegedly held in the device. The terrorist plot was that of the Bernardino mass shooting, carried out by an American with ties to the Islamic state. Things got a little out of hand, forcing the FBI to adopt legal measures. A federal magistrate judge in California subsequently issued an order to compel the iPhone maker to provide technical assistance to the FBI in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino mass shooters. As expected, Apple refused to obey the Court order and vowed to challenge the order, even up to the supreme Court.
Now the case is in Court, its no more just about ethics or user privacy, its now about what and who is legally right. It’s pretty much about what holds water before a panel of Judges. This the basic legal standing of both the FBI and Apple;
The All Writs Act
What is the All writs Act, how does it work, how can it be applied in the Apple vs FBI case and why is a 227-year-old law about to decide the fate of encryption in 2016?
Yes, 227 years, that’s how old the All Writs Act of 1789 really is. The law was sign by George Washington himself into law — which makes it quite a legal relic. Unfortunately, that’s one of the focal point of the Apple vs FBI standoff.
An excerpt from the 2 centuries old law that the FBI and the US government invoked against Apple read thus;
The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.
***A writ is basically just a formal order that’s issued by a court. Its a sweeping legal gesture that gives courts the authority to issue orders compelling people to do things, so long as it’s for a legal and necessary reason.***
One of the most notable modern use for the All Writs Act is helping law enforcement to “effectuate warrants”. The act has also been successfully invoked by the US government to compel telephone companies to install wiretaps, for phone companies to hand over call records, and to obtain CCTV footage, handwriting exemplars, and even DNA samples.
The All Writ Act is simply just too broad and vague to be successful opposed. The law is somewhat of a gap filler, a go-to judiciary act used by law enforcement in situations where there is yet no legislation in place to handle a legal scenario.
In an application filed by the DOJ to the federal court in the San Bernardino case, the Department of Justice (DOJ) specifically cited the All Writs Act as its primary legal justification as to why there is precedent to force Apple’s assistance.
There’s simply no reasonable limitations to the All Writs Act, meaning that the FBI is legally right — and in essence Apple is obstructing justice by refusing to comply with the Court’s order. The All Writs Act does not specify when and in which situation the law can be applied, thereby providing the FBI with a large enough legal loophole to nail the iphone maker. There’s no provision for limitations or references to any, in the Carnage wrecking but surprisingly short judicial Act which reads in full;
(a) The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.
(b) An alternative writ or rule nisi may be issued by a justice or judge of a court which has jurisdiction.
Its very clear that Apple doesn’t have any legal basis to fight the order when considering only the All Writs Act. However, Apple might have a strong weapon against the government — The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) 1994. The 22-year-old CALEA offers Apple inc an effective weapon to force a limitation on the All Writ Act.
The court order Obtained against Apple by the FBI isn’t demanding that Apple unlock the phone. Which is an iPhone 5C running iOS 9 but rather it’s asking the iPhone maker to create a software to bypass iOS security measures — including “an auto-delete function that erases the key needed to decrypt data once a passcode is entered incorrectly after ten tries as well as a timed delay after each wrong password guess”.
Now the US government is clearly asking Apple to modify its iOS9 software, something which the CALEA clearly prohibits. CALEA limits the government’s authority to dictate to carriers or manufacturers any specific equipment design or software configuration. To put it simply, the law prohibits the government from asking Apple to modify or create a specific design or version of the iOS9 software.