In a filing entered today in Central California district court, Apple says the government wants the law to act as “an all-powerful magic wand” that could force the company into assisting law enforcement.
The argument comes in response to FBI demands for Apple to break security on an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino shooting, giving investigators access to data stored locally on the phone.
“The Founders would be appalled,” Apple wrote in its last court filing before it squares off against the government in federal court in California at a hearing on March 22.
The FBI’s court order relies on the All Writs Act, a broad 1789 law that gives courts power to, among other things, compel companies’ cooperation in investigations and has been used by the government for that purpose.
Apple argues that the U.S. attorneys are misinterpreting prior cases and their application of the law is overreaching: “The government attempts to rewrite history by portraying the Act as an all-powerful magic wand rather than the limited procedural tool it is,” Apple’s lawyers write, comparing the request to “conscription” of the company and its employees that would “pose a severe threat” to Apple’s autonomy.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that writing software to comply with the FBI’s request would be creating the equivalent of cancer, as the company says it would amount to a master key that could undermine security of other iPhones. Apple’s position has garnered support from dozens of civil liberties groups and tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Intel.