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Senior Staff Writer

Apple’s lawyers release list of other iOS devices waiting for backdoors

Feb 23, 20164 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

Apple's legal team publishes list of All Writs Act orders received

ZwillGen, a law firm that has represented Apple many times in court over the years, has released a list of pending All Writs Act orders, where the government has gone to the courts in order to access locked devices.

In all, there are 12 iOS devices waiting to be accessed, which would appear to contradict FBI Director James Comey’s statements on Sunday.

Invoking the emotional argument by playing off the fear of terrorism and the sympathy for its victims, FBI Director James Comey stated on Sunday that the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent.

“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead,” Director Comey’s statement said.

His remarks come at a time when the public in general and technologists are split on the ramifications of a court order issued last week directing Apple to develop a backdoor for the FBI.

From the start, the FBI has maintained that the case is just about this single device, and nothing more.

However, those who were following the case noted that it was more about precedent, because if Apple does as the court demands (and it is technically possible to do so) the FBI would then go to the courts and force Apple to – as the order states – “render reasonable technical assistance” from now until such time as Apple goes out of business.

The key element in the case is what Apple’s been ordered to do. They’re to create a “bypass or disable the auto-erase function” on an iPhone 5C. Or, to put it another way, Apple is being asked to defeat a security layer that is designed to prevent the exact type of attack the FBI wants to conduct.

Apple does have the technical ability to do this, but doing so will create a backdoor that the government, as mentioned, will keep requesting access to.

The FBI doesn’t need a copy of the tool, nor does the FBI expect Apple to release it. All the FBI wants is for the tool to exist and the legal precedent for them to have it used whenever they wish.

But the FBI disputes this line of thought, stating that this is a one-time thing.

“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,” Director Comey said.

But if that’s the case, then why has the FBI loaded the courts with 12 other iOS devices waiting for similar reasonable technical assistance?

The image below can be found in PACER (case: 1:15-mc-01902)

Pending Apple devices

The list of iOS devices was released by ZwillGen PLLC, the law firm that is representing Apple in a number of cases, and has done so many times in the past.

The reason the list exists is because the court in the Eastern District of New York asked them to explain references to cases similar to the one before the court, where Apple is being asked to bypass security features.

The US Department of Justice responded to the list of pending devices with its own letter to the court.

“In its letter, Apple stated that it had ‘objected’ to some of the orders. That is misleading. Apple did not file objections to any of the orders, seek an opportunity to be heard from the court, or otherwise seek judicial relief. The orders therefore remain in force and are not currently subject to litigation. In most of the cases, rather than challenge the orders in court, Apple simply deferred complying with them, without seeking appropriate judicial relief.

“Only more recently, in light of the public attention surrounding an All Writs Act order issued in connection with the investigation into the shootings in San Bernardino, California, has Apple indicated that it will seek judicial relief, in that matter. Apple’s position has been inconsistent at best. The overwhelming weight of law and precedent continues to support the government’s application in this case.”