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Just as privacy and civil liberties experts warned, the temporary truce between Apple and FBI hasn’t diffused the U.S. government’s efforts to fight encryption.
“We are in this together,” the FBI told law enforcement agencies around the country on Friday, promising to help local police access locked phones or other devices as much as “legal and policy constraints” allow.
According to news outlets, the bureau has faced a deluge of requests for assistance since announcing on Monday that it did not need Apple’s help decrypting the iPhone belonging to one of the alleged San Bernardino shooters. The FBI has not said publicly how it hacked the phone, or who helped it do so.
In response to such demands, the FBI issued an advisory to state and local authorities that that the Wall Street Journal said “seems to be aimed at reassuring police and prosecutors that while they don’t have much to tell them now, they hope to provide more information and possibly help in the near future.”
CBS News obtained the open letter, which read in part: “We know that the absence of lawful, critical investigative tools due to the ‘Going Dark’ problem is a substantial state and local law enforcement challenge that you face daily. As has been our longstanding policy, the FBI will of course consider any tool that might be helpful to our partners. Please know that we will continue to do everything we can to help you consistent with our legal and policy constraints. You have our commitment that we will maintain an open dialogue with you. We are in this together.”
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According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are at least 63 similar cases pending across the country. Earlier this week, as Common Dreams reported, the bureau agreed to help Arkansas prosecutors break into an iPhone and iPod belonging to two murder suspects.
And the Wall Street Journal revealed on Thursday that the FBI was in fact testing its still-undisclosed unlocking method on other iPhones, “to see how many other versions of the device it could open.”
Privacy and civil liberties advocates had argued that forcing Apple to decrypt the San Bernadino phone—and in turn spurring the inevitable development and dissemination of such a tool—”would necessarily place at risk the security of millions of other devices and the people who use them.”
In February, the ACLU’s Noa Yachot warned that “[p]utting this powerful tool into the hands of law enforcement agencies that have a history of biased policing will compound existing disparities.”
“We know that there are existing disparities in policing and warrant execution practices,” Yachot wrote at the time. “Increased government investigative powers will simply reflect — and likely exacerbate — these disparities. In other words, already overpoliced communities are likely to be the recipients of these new age search warrants, which provide concerning government access to our digital data.”
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