LOS ANGELES (CN) - The U.S. government filed a reply in its acrimonious battle with Apple to unlock San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone on Thursday, accusing the tech giant of launching a "corrosive" assault on the Constitution and branches of government.
The 35-page filing marks the latest chapter in a court battle that has led to a national debate about the tension between security and privacy.
In February, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking Farook's iPhone 5c. The government followed that up with a motion to compel Apple to comply with the order.
The tech company filed an opposition on Feb. 25, asserting that the court does not have the authority under the All Writs Act of 1789 to demand it to unlock Farook's phone.
Such an order would violate Apple's First Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution by forcing the company to write code, violate its due process rights, and create a "crippled" and "insecure" product, the company said in the motion.
But in a reply penned by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and filed at the Riverside Federal Court on Thursday, the government hit back at Apple for its characterization of the All Writs Act.
The centuries-old law is an "integral part of our justice system," the government says, and legal precedent gives the court the authority to make the demand.
Furthermore, the government claims that the order will not place an undue burden on Apple. Investigators say they only need the assistance of up to six Apple employees to unlock the phone over a two-week period.
The government again denies that it's asking Apple to create a "backdoor" operating system or "master key," and says the order only applies to a single iPhone.
"It is a narrow, targeted order that will produce a narrow, targeted piece of software capable of running on just one iPhone, in the security of Apple's corporate headquarters," the reply states. "That iPhone belongs to the County of San Bernardino, which has consented to its being searched," the government adds. "The phone was used by the now-dead terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, who also consented to its being searched as part of his employment agreement with the county."
Farook used the phone for his job as a county health inspector.
Calling the encryption that Apple created with the introduction of its operating system iOS 8 "warrant-proof," the government says that investigators and the public need to know what was on Farook's phone.
"Apple's rhetoric is not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights: the courts, the Fourth Amendment, longstanding precedent and venerable laws, and the democratically elected branches of government," the reply states.
Apple CEO Tim Cook warned customers in February that if his company complied with the order it would threaten the security of hundreds of millions of iPhone users and create a dangerous precedent.
"Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks - from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable," Cook said in a Feb. 16 letter to customers.
But the government calls Apple's fears "overblown"
Nothing in Pym's order would require the company to create code that would breach its network security, and the code Apple writes would never leave the company's possession, the reply says.
Even if the code used to unlock Farook's phone was stolen, the government says, it could only be used to unlock Farook's phone.
"Far from being a master key, the software simply disarms a booby trap affixed to one door: Farook's," the brief says, adding that limits baked into Apple's own security and software would prevent the code from being used on another phone.
The government asks Pym to reject Apple's motion to vacate the order and again order Apple to assist investigators.
"In short, the limits Apple seeks are already found in the Constitution, the act, and the three branches of government: congressional legislation, executive restraint and judicial discretion," the reply states. "The government respectfully submits that those authorities should be entrusted to strike the balance between each citizen's right to privacy and all citizens' right to safety and justice. The rule of law does not repose that power in a single corporation, no matter how successful it has been in selling its products."
A hearing in the case is scheduled for March 22 in Pym's Riverside courtroom.
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