Apple Files to Vacate Court Order in San Bernardino iPhone Case

Federal government asked Apple to unlock San Bernardino shooter's phone.

ByABC News
February 26, 2016, 1:48 AM

— -- Apple filed a motion today to vacate a federal order asking the company to help unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.

"This is not a case about one isolated iPhone. Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe," Apple's attorneys wrote in the filing.

The FBI has called on Apple to help get into the iPhone of Syed Farook, who, along with wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 and injured 22 at a holiday party in December. Last week, at the request of the Justice Department, a federal judge ordered Apple to assist law enforcement.

Over the past five months, Apple has received at least 15 requests to unlock iPhones, according to court records unsealed this week.

In a call with reporters, an Apple executive said software code is “protected speech” and that there is no precedent that compels Apple to cooperate with the government's request.

Apple's motion to vacate the federal court order alleges "rather than pursue new legislation, the government backed away from Congress and 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."

It goes on to say by invoking "terrorism," the government "sought to cut off debate and circumvent thoughtful analysis."

In an exclusive interview with ABC News this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the government's request could undermine the privacy of millions of people.

"I think safety of the public is incredibly important -- safety of our kids, safety of our family is very important," Cook said. "The protection of people's data is incredibly important, and so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities."

In a statement, Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said its approach to investigating crimes has stayed the same, but Apple had reversed "its long-standing cooperation in complying with All Writs Act orders."

"Law enforcement has a longstanding practice of asking a court to require the assistance of a third party in effectuating a search warrant. When such requests concern a technological device, we narrowly target our request to apply to the individual device," Newman said. "In each case, a judge must review the relevant information and agree that a third party’s assistance is both necessary and reasonable to ensure law enforcement can conduct a court-authorized search. Department attorneys are reviewing Apple’s filing and will respond appropriately in court."