Today, the FBI is seeking to force Apple to write software to cripple iPhone encryption. Tomorrow, the authorities could demand that Apple write software to activate an iPhone's video camera or location services in order to spy on users, Apple warns in new court papers.
"Given the given the government’s boundless interpretation of the All Writs Act, it is hard to conceive of any limits on the orders the government could obtain in the future," the company writes in a motion filed this afternoon in the high-stakes battle.
Apple is asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in the Central District of California to vacate her recent controversial order requiring Apple to develop software that would help the FBI hack into a phone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI wants Apple to disable a security feature that prevents hackers from repeatedly testing different passwords on the phone; Apple says doing so would require it to develop a new operating system.
Apple, which has tapped former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson to represent it, argues that Pym's order -- based on her interpretation of the 1789 All Writs Act -- carries far-reaching policy consequences.
"The order demanded by the government compels Apple to create a new operating system -- effectively a “back door” to the iPhone -- that Apple believes is too dangerous to build," the company says. "In short, the government wants to compel Apple to create a crippled and insecure product. Once the process is created, it provides an avenue for criminals and foreign agents to access millions of iPhones. And once developed for our government, it is only a matter of time before foreign governments demand the same tool."
The All Writs Act states that courts "may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law."
The public appears to be divided in the battle between the FBI and Apple, but executives at tech companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft have weighed in on Apple's side, as have some Democratic lawmakers. Others, like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California), argue that the question should be resolved by Congress, not judges.
For its part, Apple says the All Writs Act "does not grant the courts free-wheeling authority to change the substantive law, resolve policy disputes, or exercise new powers that Congress has not afforded them."
The company adds: "Congress has never authorized judges to compel innocent third parties to provide decryption services to the FBI."
The matter is slated for a hearing on March 22.