On 3 March 2016, Privacy International, together with Human Rights Watch, filed an amicus curiae brief in In the Matter of the Search of an Apple iPhone Seized during the Execution of a Search Warrant on a Black Lexus IS300, California License Plate 35KGD203 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Popularly known as the “Apple v. FBI” case, the dispute stemmed from the FBI’s investigation of a December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. As part of its investigation, the FBI obtained an iPhone used by one of the deceased shooters. The data on the iPhone was encrypted and the FBI filed an application for an order of assistance under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §1651, to compel Apple’s assistance in accessing that data. In particular, the FBI sought to compel Apple to design and write custom software that would cripple core security features of the iPhone. The court issued the order, which Apple challenged on the grounds that it was unlawful and unconstitutional.
Privacy International and Human Rights Watch’s brief focused on the international implications should the Court compel Apple to assist the FBI by hacking its own iPhone. In particular, we discussed how other countries already seek the power to compel technology companies to undermine the security of their products or services, through hacking and other techniques. We argued that should the Court compel Apple to assist the FBI, it would encourage these countries to place heightened pressure on companies to comply. Our brief also touched upon the civil and human rights abuses that can – and have – occurred when governments seek to exploit security weaknesses in technology products and services.