The U.S. government may be angling for broader access to coded digital data than it has let on in its high-profile standoff with Apple over a locked terrorist’s iPhone.
The Justice Department is pursuing court orders that use the same law — called the All Writs Act — to make Apple help investigators bypass iPhone passcode protections in about a dozen undisclosed cases, the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, who added that the 12 cases don’t involve terrorism charges.
The development may add ammunition for privacy advocates who support Apple’s defiance of a court order. Last week, a federal court order Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting that killed 14 people in December. Apple has argued that complying with the order would force it to create programming that could allow the U.S. government — or anyone savvy enough to figure out the tool — to peek on anyone’s private digital data beyond the scope of the San Bernardino terrorism case.
Because of Apple’s global power and the magnitude of the San Bernardino attack, the showdown is expected to set a precedent for similar conflicts. The 12 additional cases are now in limbo, the WSJ reported, as the legal battle over the San Bernardino phone plays out.
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s message seeking comment.
So far in the San Bernardino face-off, the Justice Department and the FBI have harped on the limited scope of their request for Apple’s help. Sunday, FBI director James Comey published a letter stressing the simplicity of the investigation that requires Apple’s aid to gain backdoor entry into the shooter’s phone.
“We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it,” he wrote.