After more than a week of warring words, Apple on Thursday officially defied a court order that it help the FBI unlock a mass shooter’s iPhone.
The gadget giant filed a motion to vacate the order because it violates its constitutional rights and illegally forces it into a burdensome task of creating dangerous tools for the government.
The move is Apple’s first legal stance against a court mandate that Apple has been battling in the realm of public opinion since last week. Soon after a federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to help the FBI bypass security blockers on an iPhone used by one of the shooters in December’s deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, CEO Tim Cook released a letter to customers laying out the dangers of the order and explaining why Apple would refuse.
Thursday, Apple made that refusal official.
In the filing and on a conference call with reporters, Apple said the order would require it to create a “GovtOS” version of the iOS software that runs devices like iPhones, and that it would force it to set up an FBI forensics lab that has the potential to be used on hundreds of other phones now held by law enforcement.
That conflicts with the company’s Constitutional rights, it said in the motion.
Apple argued that by making Apple write computer code that conflicts with its principles, the U.S. is forcing it to express the government’s point of view on security and privacy rather than its own, violating its First Amendment right to free speech. It likened the process of writing computer code to other forms of writing, even comparing it to poetry.
It also argued that the Fifth Amendment protects it from being deprived of liberty, which Apple says the order would do by conscripting the company “to do the government’s bidding” and develop software undermining the security features of its own products.
A senior Apple official called that unprecedented, saying never before has a company been conscripted by the U.S. to create something that does not exist — in this case, new software it refers to as GovtOS.
The company also took aim at the Justice Department for inappropriately wielding a centuries-old law to win a court order for what it failed to achieve with lawmakers. Called the All Writs Act, the 1789 law doesn’t give courts the authority “to change the substantive law, resolve policy disputes, or exercise new powers that Congress has not afforded them,” it said in the filing.
The Apple official noted that the Obama Administration originally approached Congress about the issue and voluntary abandoned the effort. By working through the courts instead, the U.S. government was “hijacking an important national debate,” the company said in a statement explaining the motion.