Department of Justice compelling smartphone makers to bypass encryption

The encryption of smartphones has become a hot topic for many within the government of the United States, including the Attorney General and even the director of the FBI.

Tapping the All Writs Act, feds want Apple’s help to defeat encrypted phones, as revealed by newly discovered court documents from two federal criminal cases in New York and California.

Now, according to court documents gathered by Ars Technica, the lengths that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is willing to go in its attempts to bypass encrypted devices has been highlighted to great effect. The report was published early Monday, December 1, and outlines the All Writs Act, which is an 18th-century federal law that allows a court to issue an order to either a person or a company to do something. In this attempt, the DOJ is essentially trying to get a judge to force Apple to bypass the encryption present on its devices for law enforcement purposes.

In the specific case mentioned above, feds tapped the All Writs Act to compel Apple to use “any capabilities it may have to unlock the phone.”

The question of whether or not the United States government can invoke the All Writs Act in this situation, or in others like it that will likely bubble up to the surface, is still one that cannot be answered so easily, as Alex Abdo — an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union — points out:
“That’s kind of like the question of could the government compel your laptop maker to unlock your disk encryption?” he said. “And I think those are very complicated questions, and if so, then that’s complicated constitutional questions whether the government can conscript them to be their agents. Then there’s one further question: can the government use the All Writs Act to compel the installation of backdoors?“
The Wall Street Journal last month said that DoJ officials told Apple that it was “marketing to criminals” by strengthening iOS security and that “a child will die“ because of iOS’s security design and Apple’s choices.


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