Feds Want To Crack A Lot More iPhones Than Just The San Bernardino Terrorist's

The FBI chief had said his agency wasn't looking to set "any precedent" with its Apple demand.
It turns out there are more Apple devices the FBI wants to unlock.
It turns out there are more Apple devices the FBI wants to unlock.

NEW YORK -- A court filing unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday revealed that the federal government wants to compel Apple to help it crack more than just the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

The filing -- a letter by an Apple lawyer in an unrelated New York drug case -- noted that federal judges across the country have ordered the tech giant to help the federal government unlock as many as 15 iPhones and other Apple devices in a number of ongoing investigations.

"Apple has not agreed to perform any services on the devices to which those requests are directed," attorney Marc Zwillinger concludes in a letter dated Feb. 17.

According to the missive, government lawyers have sought and received favorable court orders -- all issued under the controversial All Writs Act -- for devices being investigated in New York, California, Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts.

The probes involve various iPhone models and at least one iPad, most of them running iOS7 or later versions of Apple's mobile operating system.

The information in the letter is consistent with a Wall Street Journal report published late Monday indicating there are at least 12 other federal investigations in several jurisdictions involving Apple devices. None of them are terrorism-related.

The FBI and Apple have been embroiled in a very public battle over privacy and national security following a court order last week forcing the company to cooperate with the government to create a "back door" to the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre that killed 14 and wounded 22 on Dec. 2. Apple has vowed to fight the order.

But the existence of these other cases appears to contradict FBI Director James Comey, who in a Sunday column disputed Apple's assertion that compliance in the San Bernardino case would set a dangerous precedent that would give the government greater leeway to undermine privacy more generally.

"We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That's it," Comey wrote.

The FBI did not return a request from comment from The Huffington Post.

"The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that's simply not true," Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote last week on the company's site. "Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices."

In response to the Apple letter unsealed Tuesday in New York, federal prosecutors, in their own rebuttal letter, told the judge that Apple has not been forthright about how it's cooperated with the government in past investigations.

"Only more recently, in light of the public attention surrounding an All Writs Act order issued in connection with the investigation into the shootings in San Bernardino, California, has Apple indicated that it will seek judicial relief," the government lawyers wrote.

Noting the law is on the government's side, the letter closes with this: "Apple's position has been inconsistent at best."