Did you know that Google has also been ordered to help FBI by unlocking Android smartphones?
While Apple’s San Bernardino fight may be over, it has been found that the Silicon Valley giant is not the only company facing government demands at the center of a fierce debate over privacy and security. Google, too, has fielded calls for help unlocking phones in court, for instance to bypass a lock screen and reset a password.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has discovered publicly available court documents that revealed the government has asked Google’s assistance to help the federal authorities hack into at least nine locked Android smartphones citing the 1789 law called the All Writs Act. The devices include phones from Alcatel, Kyocera, and Samsung, many of which shipped without the default device encryption that blocked the use of traditional forensic tools in the San Bernardino case.
The ACLU found 63 such instances where it asked Google to help them access data on locked phones, predominantly in drug crime investigations. Additionally, the ACLU also released 54 court cases in which the federal authorities asked Apple for assistance to help them access information from a locked iPhone. However, this is the first time it has confirmed that Google has also received such requests. Though disclosures in an ongoing Brooklyn case had confirmed that the Justice Department had about 70 existing All Writs orders, the documents show that Google is as involved in them as Apple.
Google said this in a statement to The Wall Street Journal:
“We carefully scrutinize subpoenas and court orders to make sure they meet both the letter and spirit of the law,” a Google spokesman said. “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.”
Apple has identified 12 pending cases where the All Writs Act is being used against them. After the FBI dropped the San Bernardino case earlier this week (after finding an alternative method into the iPhone), Apple said the case “never should have been brought.”
“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent,” Apple said. “We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.”