Records Show FBI Compelling Tech Companies Like Google To Unlock Phones Since 2012

Records Show FBI Compelling Tech Companies Like Google To Unlock Phones Since 2012
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The drama has started a long time ago even before it made it in the news. But like any controversial story, the secrets always come out in the end. The story of FBI vs. Apple and other tech companies go way back than we thought it did.


It could be recalled that the FBI forcing Apple to unlock one of its iPhones became a big issue, as it involves encryption that affects the entire tech industry. A few days ago, the FBI confirmed that it has managed to crack the iPhone without the Cupertino company’s help.

According to The Verge, a new research by American Civil Liberties Union has found out that there are 63 different cases where the government required help from Apple or Google in unlocking a handset. Though it was not clear how these orders have been dealt with, it is believed that all orders have been complied with until last year, when the battle between Apple and FBI started.

Most of the cases target Apple; nine were also directed towards Google, mostly to reset a password on a certain handset. The handset range from Alcatel, Kyocera and Samsung, most of which were shipped without the default encryption that blocked the use of traditional forensic tools in the much talked-about San Bernardino case. So why was Google’s case different from the others?

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According to a spokesperson of from Google, they have “carefully scrutinize subpoenas and court orders to make sure they meet both the letter and spirit of the law. However, we’ve never received an All Writs Act order, like the one Apple recently fought, that demands we build new tools that actively compromise our products’ security. As our amicus shows, we would strongly object to such an order,” reports Phandroid.

Google was able to comply with some of the orders because it didn’t have mandatory encryption until Android 5.0 Lollipop. Also, one of the features of the Android Device Manager allowed the tech giant to issue one-time password resets to locked devices, which they were not asked in the order to build for.

In the end, the tech giant ended up removing that feature starting with Android 5.0 Lollipop. So orders like that can’t be carried out through an existing method for most of the Android devices released in the past years.

If the court has ordered the search engine to compromise its own security with a new method in order to comply with an order, Google said it would have taken the same counter measures Apple did with the high-profile case. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that the language of the All Writs Act is expansive, allowing federal courts broad authority to compel companies to do their bidding.

But the government mostly used it for help in cases involving technology out of its reach. These practice of getting court orders to compel assistance from tech companies has been defended by the Justice Department. However, privacy groups have been arguing that the government is instead misusing an outdated law to claim authority not granted by the Congress.

Last month, a court filing from the Cupertino company indicated that there are at least 12 active cases where the Justice Department was pursuing similar orders involving the company. On the other hand, a 2015 drug investigation involving Google got a court order to require the search engine to provide assistance in getting data from an Alcatel and a Kyocera device that uses its operating system.

Aside from that, ACLU has also found out that the Google cases also involved investigations by the FBI, Secret Service, Homeland security Department, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Land Management.

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