The DOJ Used 225-Year-Old Law to Bypass a Phone's Password

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When it comes to encryption, some of the Department of Justice's views are... interesting. Now, it transpires that it's been using laws that date back 225 years to get phones unlocked, too.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, back last month, its prosecutors managed to convince a federal magistrate in Manhattan to "order an unnamed phone maker" to provide what it calls "reasonable technical assistance" to unlock a password-protected phone. The phone in question was rumored to contain evidence required in a credit-card-fraud case.

The warrant issued to source help in unlocking the phone cited the All Writs Act. That's part of a 1789 law that gives courts broad authority to carry out their duties. What happened next remains under wraps, though the phone manufacturer in question—which the Journal speculates may be Apple—was given five days to lay the contents of the phone out for inspection.


While a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office told the Journal that "it's not that unusual for the government to use an All Writs order to get a phone-maker to unlock a phone," a partner at Perkins Coie LLP, which works closely with tech firms, also said that "there's danger in this." He was, of course, referring to the lengths that tech companies must go to in order to help the government.

This certainly isn't the first—nor will it be the last—case of judges ordering tech giants to help them in their enquiries by unlocking phones. But you can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, some laws that didn't date back to 1789 might be a useful addition. [WSJ]