The U.S. government is going to increasingly desperate measures to unlock cell phones, using what was described by one judge as a “Hail Mary play.”

apple data encryption

Apple’s data encryption too much for the government

When Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced it was locking down its cell phone so that no one could access a user’s private content, the government went to extreme lengths to discredit the initiative. It said the action would help terrorists and criminals win and specifically said the practice might kill a child.

Now the U.S. government is in court relying on a law that was written before television or radio was even invented, much less the Internet and cell phones.  Making arguments in both a California and New York case, the government specifically asks Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to unlock an encrypted iPhone 5S, citing the All Writs Act. The 225-year old law provides the courts the authority to issue whatever orders it so chooses in order to compel someone to do whatever the government wants.

The All Writs Act

The concept was struck down in 2005, as a federal judge refused to accept the All Writs Act as justification for the government accessing real time cell phone data, calling the attempt a “Hail Mary play.” Both the California and New York judges, however, have agreed with the government, at least initially.  The California judge, while accepting the standing of the All Writs Act, says Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) must unlock the phone but is not required to decipher the encryption. A Gizmodo article, however, notes that the encryption can likely be broken by an accomplished hacker.

Ever since the U.S. government was acknowledged to be spying on individual citizens, different companies were required to make a decision: find sometimes loopholes to protect the privacy of their customers or cooperate with the government. The extent of government spying on individual citizens has yet to be widely reported. In her book “Stonewalled,” former CBS news reporter Sharyl Attkisson says the government planted spy apparatus on her computer, after having a computer forensics expert document what was a government planted device. Sources had told her she was being watched due to her reporting on the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya.  The U.S. government has yet to announce tough methods to oversee abuses of domestic spying and punish those inside government found breaking the law.