Crime & Justice

San Bernardino shooting: Apple court filing calls iPhone order dangerous, unconstitutional

The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After a court ordered Apple to help federal investigators crack the passcode on an encrypted iPhone, the company responded Thursday with a court filing that describes the FBI request as illegal, unconstitutional and dangerous.

"No court has ever authorized what the government now seeks, no law supports such unlimited and sweeping use of the judicial process, and the Constitution forbids it," Apple's lawyers wrote in the company's motion to vacate the order.

The court order issued last week instructs Apple to assist the FBI in working around security features on an iPhone 5C that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. Federal agents have been unable to break the phone's encryption, and attempting to guess the password might result in all the data being deleted. They've asked Apple to develop software they could load onto the phone that would allow them to guess the password more easily and without the risk of detection.

In the motion to dismiss the court order, Apple's manager of user privacy describes that hypothetical software as "GovtOS" — a special operating system for the government that Apple would not make under any other circumstances.

The company says it has already dedicated "substantial resources" to helping the FBI investigate the San Bernardino shootings, but that this request goes too far. Creating such software would require extensive resources, Apple notes, especially if the company has to deploy the software repeatedly — as it expects it would.

"The government says: 'Just this once' and 'Just this phone,' " the motion notes. "But the government knows those statements are not true; indeed the government has filed multiple other applications for similar orders, some of which are pending in other courts. ... If this order is permitted to stand, it will only be a matter of days before some other prosecutor, in some other important case, before some other judge, seeks a similar order using this case as precedent."

Apple also says the request overreaches the court's authority — that only Congress could create a policy or afford the federal courts a new power to make such a request legal — and that it violates the company's First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights.

Read Apple's full motion below:

Apple motion

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