Apple isn’t the only tech company the feds have asked to hack into phones. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the government has also tried to compel Google to unlock Android phones, and they have been doing so for years.
According to the ACLU’s report, published Thursday, the government has been trying to use the All Writs Act, a 1789 law that gives courts the authority to issue orders, to force tech companies to help access customers’ locked data in at least 63 cases since 2008. Roughly 90 percent involve Apple and 10 percent are for devices running Google’s Android operating system.
“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,” ACLU said in a statement. “Turns out, these kinds of orders have actually become quite ordinary.”
The ACLU created an interactive map showing where and when the government applied for such an order, their docket numbers and the federal agency that conducted the investigation. According to the ACLU, the majority of the cases involve investigations into drug crimes.
CNET’s Richard Nieva elaborated on one such case: “One Google-directed request in California last year asked the company to help breaking into handsets made by manufacturers Kyocera and Alcatel for a drug investigation. Google doesn’t make phone hardware like Apple does, but instead lets other hardware makers use its software on their devices.”
The report states that there are even more suspected incidents of the government attempting to get tech companies to unlock phones. “In addition to the 63 confirmed cases, we know of up to 13 additional cases, which are reflected on the map. Apple has identified 12 pending cases (though their docket numbers remain unknown), and we uncovered one case in Massachusetts, which has not yet been confirmed because of a lack of publicly available information.”
Last week, the Justice Department dropped its case demanding Apple help access the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone after the FBI was able to hack into it with help from an unidentified third party.