Apple says the FBI has asked it to unlock more than a dozen iPhones in the last five months, reinforcing the tech giant's argument that the FBI's request in the San Bernardino massacre case will lead to further demands.
In recently unsealed court documents, Apple's lawyers revealed the company has received demands to unlock iPhones in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and New York for devices ranging from an iPhone 3s to an iPhone 6 Plus, which has increased security and privacy measures.
The Department of Justice and Apple have been locked in a heated dispute since last week, when a California judge ordered the technology giant to help the FBI access Syed Rizwan Farook’s work-issued cellphone to aid in the investigation of the case.
Farook, along with his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino, California.
Apple has refused, saying the FBI is asking for what amounts to a backdoor around the company's security measures, and that, in the wrong hands, would make countless Apple users vulnerable to searches of their phones.
An iPhone is seen in a file photo. The FBI says that compelling Apple to help unlock an extremist’s iPhone should be safe and straightforward, but security experts say it’s not so simple.
Government cites precedent
The company says the Obama administration should seek congressional approval of a new law to deal with the issue. But U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch insisted Wednesday that there is a precedent to back the government's request.
"It's a long-standing principle in our justice system that if an independent judge finds reason to believe that a certain item contains evidence of a crime, then that judge can authorize the government to conduct a limited search for that evidence," Lynch told the House Appropriations Committee.
Apple has until Friday to file its opposition to the government's motion, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for March 22.
The dispute is the latest to showcase the frustrations of law enforcement officials who complain that newer encryption methods used by companies like Apple make it harder to carry out investigations involving the use of technology by criminal suspects. Apple strengthened encryption of its phones in 2014 amid increased public concern about digital privacy.
A July 27, 2014, photo shows San Bernardino shooters Tashfeen Malik (L) and Syed Farook, as they passed through passport control O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The FBI wants Apple to hack into Farook's iPhone.