FBI v. Apple timeline: Tracking legal battles over iPhone security
This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments in both cases.
Last week, the FBI closed the books on another chapter in its battle with Apple over smartphone encryption.
In a letter sent late Friday, the Department of Justice called on a Brooklyn judge to drop a court order demanding Apple unlock an iPhone belonging to a suspected drug dealer, after investigators reportedly obtained the password to that device.
That follows the FBI’s claim in March that third-party hackers unlocked an iPhone recovered after the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.
Despite the outcome of both cases, the arguments and filings along the way have contributed to a much bigger battle between US government officials and the tech sector over encryption on consumer devices.
On one hand, the US government insists its requests are just about these specific phones – one in a terror investigation and another in a drug case. But Apple argues that’s not possible: Writing code to bypass strong security features in his products, CEO Tim Cook says, would amount to a government backdoor that could unlock all sorts of devices and compromise the security of millions of consumers.
American tech companies, privacy advocates, and even other countries are watching the legal battles closely. These are shaping up to be the first major test cases in the ongoing debate over strong encryption for consumer products.
And the legal dispute is likely to be a long one. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are 63 cases where the US government used the All Writs Act, a 1789 law, to get Apple or Google to provide information from a locked mobile device. Passcode put together a guide to the Brooklyn and San Bernardino cases – which could prove instrumental in the ongoing legal back-and-forth over smartphone security.