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The DOJ just escalated the federal government’s fight with Apple

Updated Feb 19th, 2016 3:12PM EST
Apple Vs FBI DOJ

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday turned up the heat even more on Apple. Reuters is reporting that the DOJ has filed a motion that would legally compel Apple to obey a court order that the company refused to comply with this week. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Apple this week said that it would not obey a court order requiring it to help the FBI break into the iPhone used by one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernardino massacre.

BACKGROUND: The FBI has laid a clever trap for Apple

In its motion, the DOJ accused Apple of attempting to “design and market its products to allow technology, rather than the law, to control access to data which has been found by this court to be warranted for an important investigation.”

The DOJ also used the motion to counter some of the claims made by Apple CEO Tim Cook in his open letter published earlier this week.

“The order does not, as Apple’s public statement alleges, require Apple to create of provide a ‘back door’ to every iPhone,” the DOJ writes. “It does not provide ‘hackers and criminals’ access to iPhones; it does not require Apple to ‘hack [its] own users’ or to ‘decrypt’ its own phones; it does not give the government ‘the power to reach anyone’s device’ without a warrant or court authorization.”

One crucial point is that the DOJ alleges that the software Apple uses to break open the iPhone in question never has to be handed over to the government. In fact, the DOJ says that if Apple wants to open up the device on its own and then simply hand it to the DOJ afterward without explaining how it did so, it can.

Apple has been taking criticism from several lawmakers over the past couple of days who have expressed outrage that Apple is refusing to help the FBI in this investigation. Senator Tom Cotton, for example, accused Apple of being more concerned with protecting “a dead ISIS terrorist’s privacy over the security of the American people.”

Essentially, the FBI would like Apple to build software that would help it bypass its own passcode security protocols and eliminate the risk that the device could automatically delete all of its own data if the FBI tried to access it by entering in too many incorrect passcodes. This would allow the FBI to gain access to the device through brute force techniques.

Apple has objected and says that doing this would tantamount to creating a “backdoor” to its own devices’ security. What’s more, Apple and other tech companies including Google have worried about the precedent that would be set by forcing tech companies to make it easier to hack their products.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.