When a major crime is committed, officials will often seize any computerized and networked devices that the criminal owns in order to see if there are any additional contacts to probe or other evidence that can aid in the investigation. According to some digging around done by the American Civil Liberties Union in light of the recent spat between Apple and the FBI, 63 cases were uncovered in the U.S. that entailed a United States government or law enforcement entity having Apple or Google court-ordered to help them crack open a seized device.
The issue with the figure is that nobody was willing to speak regarding just how many of those orders were cooperated with or what compliance with those orders may have entailed, whether that would be cracking encryption, a simple passcode lock or a bricked or damaged device. Reuters, who fielded the original report reached out for comment to Apple, Google and the United States Department of Justice and could not get any clarification on the matter. This means that Apple’s recent fight with the FBI over helping them get into an iPhone taken from the perpetrator of the infamous recent tragedy in San Bernardino may have been Apple trying to set a new precedent, or it could have been the first time that the FBI has asked to have encryption undone by a tech company.
A disclosure from the U.S. Justice Department said that Apple has received at least 70 such orders in the past, but did not clarify how many of those orders were complied with or contested. Apple’s push against these requests, which culminated in the most recent case involving the San Bernardino tragedy and the issue of an encryption backdoor, seems to have begun with a drug case out of Brooklyn back in October of last year. After bringing the ruling to the Department of Justice, who ruled that Congress had never given the Federal Government the authority to request help in cracking seized devices, Apple began rejecting a great number of such requests. The FBI has succeeded in unlocking the infamous iPhone without Apple’s help, but there are still pending cases of similar nature and the debate over encryption still rages on.