The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released an interactive map Wednesday documenting dozens of cases across the U.S. in which the government has invoked the All Writs Act to compel Apple and Google to help access locked devices. Combined, they show use of this 1789 law is wide-spread and far reaching.
These cases are different from the case of the San Bernardino's work iPhone, where the FBI got a court to order Apple to create an operating system that bypassed iOS security features. That was the first such order in the history of this country.
But consider this map against repeated assertions from FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice that the case was about just one phone and one phone only—and the DOJ's subsequent promise to continue to use U.S. courts to force companies to assist with accessing locked devices.
Furthermore, consider this map against the backdrop of both of those agencies—and President Barack Obama—stating their collective belief that there should be no unbreakable devices, no black boxes.
The ACLU's map shows vividly that far from being just one case about one iPhone, the high profile San Bernardino case is part of what the ACLU called, "a sustained government effort to exercise novel law enforcement power."
More importantly, the end-game for that sustained government effort is backdoor access to our devices, and that backdoor access makes law abiding citizens and companies alike vulnerable to hackers, criminals, terrorists, and foreign agents.
The ACLU said it identified 63 cases since 2008, with another 14 cases that can't be confirmed.
"The FBI wants you to think that it will use the All Writs Act only in extraordinary cases to force tech companies to assist in the unlocking of phones," the organization wrote. "Turns out, these kinds of orders have actually become quite ordinary."