FBI vs. Apple: It’s getting heated


Police officers monitor a demonstration outside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York in February. (Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP)

Ever since a federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the phone of a San Bernardino shooter in early February, the company and the bureau have been trading insults in the media and the courts. That conflict continued with a new round of filings Tuesday afternoon (embedded below).

In the final scheduled filing before a crucial hearing set for March 22, Apple criticized prosecutors’ attempt to “rewrite history” in its legal argument, arguing that the FBI was using the All Writs Act — a 1789 law empowering judges to issue warrants and authorize searches — as “an all-powerful magic wand rather than the limited procedural tool it is.” Apple lawyers wrote that “the Founders would be appalled” by the government’s overreach in this case.

The high-stakes legal battle has forced members of Congress, major law enforcement groups, virtually every large Silicon Valley tech company and even President Obama to offer opinions on the government’s right to see encrypted data.

Related: Apple v. FBI: Examining the slippery slope argument

The tech company reaffirmed its position that Congress, not a court, should decide the reach of the FBI when it comes to accessing the encrypted communications of private individuals.

Reply Brief in Support of Apple’s Motion to Vacate

“It has become crystal clear that this case is not about a ‘modest’ order and a ‘single iPhone,’” the brief reads. “Instead, this case hinges on a contentious policy issue about how society should weigh what law enforcement officials want against the widespread repercussions and serious risks their demands would create.”

In an attempt to discredit certain claims made by the government, Apple’s filing includes written statements from its vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi — a public figure within the company who often presents at the company’s highly publicized product launches — and Robert Ferrini, the company’s director of advertising and planning. Federighi said that Apple designs the security of its phones only to protect its customers’ data, and that it enforces the same security infrastructure “everywhere in the world.” This contradicts the FBI’s claims that they adjust those rules country by country. Ferrini’s statement addressed an FBI accusation that Apple lawyers described as “offensive” on a Tuesday night call with journalists: that Apple marketed its phones to customers as “warrant-proof.”

“Since the introduction of iOS 8 in October 2014, Apple has placed approximately 1,793 advertisements worldwide — 627 in the United States alone — of different types, including print ads, television ads, online ads, cinema ads, radio ads and billboards,” his statement read. “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.”

SLIDESHOW – iPhone security protests >>>


Bruce Sewell, senior vice president and general counsel for Apple Inc., watches as FBI Director James Comey testifies on March 1 during a House Judiciary hearing. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Finally, Apple’s lawyers criticized prosecutors’ understanding of certain technical issues at play in the case, arguing that the FBI was “either confused or reckless and careless” in addressing them.

The two sides will face off in court next Tuesday.