Google's been hit with All Writs Act phone unlocking orders, too

The government has been seeking All Writs Act court orders against both Apple and Google for several years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which discovered 63 legal cases that involved the law. The ACLU doesn't know the outcome of these cases — whether the companies unlocked the phones or even if the court orders were granted — but present legal actions and past statements from prosecutors hint that such court orders were often granted, and sought to unlock smartphones' passcodes.

Apple's legal battle over the past year has highlighted an area of privacy concern, one where the government has used a law from 1789 to hit the company with court orders to unlock suspects' protected phones. According to the ACLU's investigation, Google has similarly been the subject of these court order requests, with law enforcement seeking to force its hand into unlocking secured phones.

This time around, the issue was messy and only grew messier. Apple was ordered in February to help the FBI unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, something it challenged. That led to a legal battle, one that briefly saw victory when a judge ruled that Apple couldn't be compelled under the All Writs Act. The matter was set to go back into the courtroom this month when the Justice Department requested a stay, saying it had a possible way to get into the iPhone without Apple's help.

That third-party solution proved successful, according to the Department of Justice, but it isn't over yet — Apple wants to know how the agency managed to unlock the phone.

While the matter has just recently come to the public attention because of this, the issue revolving around All Writs Act court orders demanding phones be unlocked stretches back years — the ACLU found instances of such cases dating as far back as 2008.

In a statement to the WSJ, a Google spokesperson said:

We carefully scrutinize subpoenas and court orders to make sure they meet both the letter and spirit of the law. However, we've never received an All Writs Act order like the one Apple recently fought that demands we build new tools that actively compromise our products' security.... We would strongly object to such an order.

Per the ACLU's probe, Google was the subject of court orders sought by the FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service, DEA and, oddly enough, the Bureau of Land Management. The cases are said to have involved a child pornography investigation, a drug case, and more, spanning several states including Alabama, South Dakota, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Oregon. The outcome of these cases, such as whether Google was served or proceeded to unlock any phones, is unknown.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal