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Apple vs. FBI: Feds Cite 1789 Law to Demand Cellphone’s Decryption

Government is using All Writs Act to demand Apple create backdoor to access San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone

Hear ye, hear ye, citizens of these united Colonies!: The FBI is citing a 1789 law in its court order demanding that Apple unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, a request the tech company calls an overreach.

As Slate previously noted, the All Writs Act of 1789 has been used to justify court orders compelling third-party companies to cooperate in federal investigations, including the decryption of smart phones. But Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in his open letter on Tuesday that the FBI’s latest request is different.

“If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data,” Cook wrote. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”

According to Cook, the FBI asserts that the “backdoor,” which would allow investigators to crack the phone’s password, would only be used in this one case. But Cook says that’s impossible to guarantee.

“Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” he wrote. “In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”

Libertarian presidential candidate and anti-virus pioneer John McAfee echoed Cook’s sentiment in an op-ed for Truth in Media, calling this “the beginning of the end of the U.S. as a world power.”

“After years of arguments by virtually every industry specialist that backdoors will be a bigger boon to hackers and to our nation’s enemies than publishing our nuclear codes and giving the keys to all of our military weapons to the Russians and the Chinese, our government has chosen, once again, not to listen to the minds that have created the glue that holds this world together,” he wrote.