Apple Inc.

Apple is battling the U.S. government’s order to circumvent security features on an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino attackers. (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

Joel Rubin, Maura Dolan and James Queally
February 25, 2016

  • Apple says the FBI’s court order violates its free speech rights

Apple dug in Thursday for its blockbuster legal battle against the U.S. government, arguing in new court papers that a federal judge overstepped her authority and violated the company’s constitutional rights when she granted an order compelling it to help unlock a terrorist’s iPhone.

Attorneys for the technology behemoth argued that the order requiring the company to write new software to allow FBI agents to circumvent the phone’s security features relies improperly on a centuries-old law. The lawyers also argued in their papers filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside that the order violates the 1st Amendment’s protections against forced speech — in this case, written computer code — and the 5th Amendment, which guards against government incursions on property and liberty.

The company’s filing also echoed concerns that its chief executive, Timothy Cook, has raised in recent public comments — that the order would open a door for hackers and embolden law enforcement authorities to pry into customers’ private data.

“This is not a case about one isolated iPhone. Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe,” the company wrote.

Apple’s arguments were the latest turn in a case that has quickly emerged as the focal point in a high-stakes dispute over how far technology companies must go in aiding law enforcement and how solving crimes can be balanced with protecting the privacy of customers.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, who issued the order earlier this month, must now rule on Apple’s motion to dismiss it. The two sides are scheduled to argue before Pym next month.

Her order grants a request from federal prosecutors to force Apple technicians to help FBI agents access the contents of an iPhone 5C that belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two assailants in the Dec. 2 attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency was reviewing Apple’s arguments but insisted that prosecutors’ request for help was nothing new. In the San Bernardino case, spokeswoman Melanie Newman said, Apple had reversed “its long-standing cooperation” in complying with these types of court orders. The order, she added, was narrow in scope, dealing only with Farook’s phone.

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