FBI use 18th century law to block Apple and Google’s data encryption

Court documents have revealed that the FBI means business when they say that Apple and Google should decrypt users’ data. The FBI has never been shy about the fact that it hates Apple and Google’s commitment to encrypting files in smartphones and tablets.

The emerging court paperwork shows two precedent cases in which federal prosecutors cited the “All Writs act” that was signed into law by George Washington in 1789 to force companies to decrypt data on gadgets. Although this law was revised in the 20th century, the act empowers US courts to “issue all writs and appropriate or necessary in aid of their respective jurisdictions and are agreeable to the usage and principles of law”.

While this is an incredibly broad act, the FBI thinks it is enough to force Apple and other technology companies to decrypt the data in tablets and smartphones.

Just last month, New York prosecutors successfully persuaded a judge to order a smartphone manufacturer to offer reasonable technical assistance to reveal the contents of a smartphone alleged to have been used in credit card fraud.

Another similar case in northern California saw federal investigators name Apple using the All Writs Act. The investigators sought for Apple to unlock an iPhone 5S as part of a proceeding criminal case. According to the court filing, the state investigators were not willing to open the iPhone 5S because they were afraid of damaging crucial evidence. The FBI asked the courts to force Apple to help them extract data from the phone which was protected by pass-code.

Google and Apple say that Android and iOS encrypt data using a technique that only the owner can decrypt, thus even if they wanted to assist the FBI, they would not be able to do anything about it. While the required data could be on cloud for federal agents to access, Google and Apple say they do not have skeleton keys to user devices.

Do you think Apple and Google are telling the truth when they claim there is nothing they can do about decrypting smartphones and tablet data?