clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Justice Department Blasts Apple in Court Documents, Calls Rhetoric 'False' and 'Corrosive'

The U.S. Attorney accuses Apple and others in the tech industry of trying to "alarm" the court.

Bryan Thomas / Getty

The Department of Justice blasted Apple in a court document arguing the company should be forced to abide by the court’s order to help unlock a phone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.

The government argues that Apple — “a corporation that grosses hundreds of billions of dollars a year” — is “fully capable” of developing software that would disable security on the iPhone and allow federal investigators to search the device for evidence. Apple says it would require a handful of employees mere weeks to do so.

The hardship the court’s order in the San Bernardino case poses is one of the company’s own making, the government argues Thursday in a court filing. It says Apple erected the technological obstacles that prevent investigators from searching the device for evidence related to the shooting.

“Apple deliberately raised technological barriers that now stand between a lawful warrant and an iPhone containing evidence related to the terrorist mass murder of 14 people,” the government writes. “Apple alone can remove those barriers.”

U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker reasserts that the government’s request is a narrow one — compelling Apple to help federal investigators unlock a single device. She argues the iPhone at the center of this dispute is owned by San Bernardino county, which has already agreed to the search. The now-dead terrorist who used the device, Syed Rizwan Farook, also consented to the search as a condition of his employment with the county.

“In short, the Order invades no one’s privacy and raises no Fourth Amendment concerns,” Decker writes.

FBI Director James Comey acknowledged in testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee that the case could potentially set a precedent for similar requests.

The justice department argues once again that federal investigators need to know what’s on the phone — and the government requires Apple’s help to conduct the search. The government disagrees with Apple’s arguments challenging the 200-year-old All Writs Act as “archaic,” saying the court order would lead to a “police state” and criticizing the FBI’s investigation as “shoddy” (though Comey openly admitted the FBI screwed up).

“Apple’s rhetoric is not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights: the courts, the Fourth Amendment, longstanding precedent and venerable laws, and the democratically elected branches of government,” Decker writes.

The government defends its use of the All Writs Act, saying the U.S. Supreme Court vetted its use to compel third parties to assist in gathering evidence. Decker accuses Apple and other technology companies that have supported it of employing scare tactics — the filing uses the words “trying to alarm the court” — in raising concerns about network security, back doors and encryption.

“That is a diversion. Apple desperately wants — desperately needs — this case not to be ‘about one isolated iPhone,'” Decker writes. “But there is probable cause to believe there is evidence of a terrorist attack on that phone, and our legal system gives this Court the authority to see that it can be searched pursuant to a lawful warrant.”

This article originally appeared on