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12/13/2015

Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

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SPEAK FREELY

Law Enforcement is Using a 226Year-Old Law to Force Tech
Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones
Eliza Sweren-Becker, Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and
Technology Project
& Esha Bhandari, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology
Project
DECEMBER 10, 2015 | 3:45 PM

https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak­freely/law­enforcement­using­226­year­old­law­force­tech­companies­unlock­mobile­phones

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12/13/2015

Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

The government is increasingly relying on an 18th­century law to compel third
parties to unlock mobile devices and circumvent an important public debate
about its right to do so.
The ACLU, along with the ACLU of Northern California and the Stanford
Center for Internet and Society, filed a Freedom of Information Act request
today seeking records related to the government’s use of the All Writs Act to
force device manufacturers to unlock mobile devices and give law enforcement
access to the data stored on them. We filed this FOIA request so that the
public can know the full extent of the government’s use of this statute to seek
such extraordinary authority.
After years of secrecy, the battle over when law enforcement can force device
manufacturers and other technology companies to bypass the security
measures on their products is finally playing out in court. Last month, Apple
challenged the government’s attempt to get a court order compelling Apple to
unlock and make available personal data stored on a passcode­protected
https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak­freely/law­enforcement­using­226­year­old­law­force­tech­companies­unlock­mobile­phones

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12/13/2015

Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

iPhone. The government argued that the All Writs Act authorizes such an
order, but as we argued in an amicus brief we filed, it does no such thing. The
All Writs Act permits a court to issue an order to give effect to a prior lawful
order or an existing grant of authority, and has been used for such things as
ordering a prisoner be brought before a court. The Act does not allow a court
to invest law enforcement with investigative tools that Congress has not
authorized — like the extraordinary and unconstitutional conscription of a
third party into obtaining information the third party does not possess or
control.
While the power the government seeks in Apple’s case is troubling, it’s even
more troubling to consider that the government, by its own admission, has
invoked it successfully in at least 70 cases.
We know little to nothing about those 70 cases, which is why we’re filing the
FOIA request. The government has sought individual, often sealed orders in
unrelated cases, creating a patchwork of public and non­public documents
that are difficult to track down and identify. When we submitted our amicus
brief, we were aware of only three cases in which the government had applied
for and obtained an order under the All Writs Act to compel a third party to
unlock a mobile device. In its brief, the government cited three additional
cases in which it had obtained similar orders. But for each case the
government cited as a prototypical example of its use of the All Writs Act to
compel Apple to unlock a device, the public had little or no notice that the
government sought and obtained such an order. Even for the six known cases,
many documents — including the government’s reasons and justifications —
remain under seal.
This secrecy is especially insidious because the government has used the All
Writs Act to get what it wants without regard to the current public debate
about whether tech companies should be required to build technological
“backdoors” into secure devices. Given that this debate is ongoing and robust,
https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak­freely/law­enforcement­using­226­year­old­law­force­tech­companies­unlock­mobile­phones

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12/13/2015

Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

and that even the Obama administration previously publicly shelved its
pursuit of legislation mandating the creation of backdoors, law enforcement’s
shortcut by way of the All Writs Act should be scrutinized.
The American people deserve to know more about the government’s parallel
and largely hidden effort to implement a policy that co­opts technology
companies into law enforcement work.

TAGS: Cybersecurity, Internet Privacy, Privacy & Technology

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12/13/2015

Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

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Law Enforcement is Using a 226­Year­Old Law to Force Tech Companies to Unlock Mobile Phones | American Civil Liberties Union

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