Apple Argues U.S. Government Order to Hack iPhone Is Unconstitutional

Apple filed a motion Thursday requesting that a federal court vacate an order to compel the tech giant to hack into an iPhone of a suspected terrorist, arguing that the “unprecedented” move violates the U.S. Constitution.

Apple has already publicly said that it would not comply with a judge’s order that it assist FBI investigators in accessing data on an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last December, which left 14 people dead.

In the 65-page filing, Apple said the order would compel it to create a “back door” into the iPhone, which would threaten civil liberties, and said there is no legal basis for the government to make the request.

“(T)he unprecedented order requested by the government finds no support in the law and would violate the Constitution,” Apple said in its motion. “Such an order would inflict significant harm — to civil liberties, society and national security — and would preempt decisions that should be left to the will of the people through laws passed by Congress and signed by the president.”

Specifically, Apple cited the Constitution’s First Amendment, saying the order to force it to write security-circumventing software “amounts to compelled speech and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.” In addition, the company said, the order runs counter to the Fourth Amendment, prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The Department of Justice has said that the order is specific to this case. But Apple said if it were forced to comply with the order, it would set a dangerous precedent.

“The government says: ‘Just this once’ and ‘Just this phone,'” Apple said. “Despite the context of this particular action, no legal principle would limit the use of this technology to domestic terrorism cases — but even if such limitations could be imposed, it would only drive our adversaries further underground, using encryption technology made by foreign companies that cannot be conscripted into U.S.”

Apple said the U.S. government had “the opportunity to seek amendments to existing law, to ask Congress to adopt the position it urges here.” But instead, it turned to the courts, “a forum ill-suited to address the myriad competing interests, potential ramifications and unintended consequences presented by the government’s unprecedented demand,” the company said.

CEO Tim Cook, who posted an open letter last week outlining the company’s position, said in an interview Wednesday with ABC News that creating software to bypass the iPhone’s security measures is something “we view as sort of the equivalent of cancer.”

“We think it’s bad news to write,” he said. “We would never write it; we have never written it.”

Apple’s stance has been backed by other top Silicon Valley execs, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google chief Sundar Pichai.

The company filed the motion in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Eastern Division. The case is captioned “In the Matter of the Search of an Apple iPhone Seized During the Execution of a Search Warrant on a Black Lexus IS300, California License Plate 35KGD203.”

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