Apple to court: Government can’t force us to write code

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NEW YORK (Feb. 25, 2016) — Apple told a court that it shouldn’t have to help the FBI unlock a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, claiming its computer code is protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech and the company shouldn’t be “conscripted” to work for the government.

Opposing the government’s request, Apple said in a court filing Thursday that “this is not a case about one isolated iPhone.”

“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,” Apple said in court documents.

Apple called the “conscription” of an American company to do the government’s bidding “unprecedented.”

The company said it fears the government will repeatedly force Apple to create code for future criminal investigations, potentially making it churn out code on demand, a request it calls “unreasonably burdensome.”

Apple’s filing provides the first glimpse at how it plans on defending its position in court. The government will have an opportunity to respond to Apple by March 10, and Apple can offer one final reply by March 15.

Attorneys for Apple and the government are due in court on March 22. A federal magistrate-judge will hear their arguments and make a ruling soon after.

Apple spelling out its legal defense is the latest in a long back-and-forth on the issue.

A magistrate-judge ruled on February 16 that Apple must to write a code help the FBI unlock Syed Farook’s iPhone without permanently losing access to that information. The phone had been set to permanently lock after 10 wrong passcode guesses, and Apple has the ability to create new software that will help it override the lock-out function.

But Apple said it would not comply with the magistrate-judge’s ruling.

On February 19, the Justice Department filed a motion to the court, asking it to compel Apple to help it unlock the suspect’s iPhone.

The case has set off a fierce debate about security, privacy and encryption.

No matter what the magistrate-judge ultimately rules, it is widely expected that the case will be appealed, perhaps up to the Supreme Court.

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