James Comey, the director of the FBI, has insisted that his agency’s ongoing conflict with Apple over a terrorist’s phone is just that: a conflict over one phone. In a letter posted to the Lawfare blog over the weekend, Comey called the legal issue at hand “quite narrow,” and said the FBI sought only “limited” help. Experts say the small scope of the FBI’s ask bolsters its case.
But in fact, the iPhone 5c that belonged to Syed Farook—one of the perpetrators of December’s mass shooting in San Bernadino, California—is only one of at least a dozen of Apple devices the FBI is seeking to access, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
In a letter addressed to a federal judge in New York, a lawyer for Apple said that federal law enforcement has recently requested that the company access information on 12 other iOS devices. The list is likely not a complete tally of the FBI’s requests, and does not include similar requests from state or local police.
The letter was sent last week, just one day after a federal judge in California asked Apple to help the FBI unlock Farook’s iPhone. It was filed under seal but was released on Tuesday.
The letter was submitted to a federal court in Brooklyn, where Apple and the FBI are facing off in a less dramatic version of the San Bernardino legal fight. In the Brooklyn case, the FBI is asking Apple to extract data from a locked iPhone with an outdated operating system. In San Bernardino, the FBI is asking Apple to modify the software in a newer iPhone in order to make it easier for agents to try to break in. Apple can technically fulfill both requests, but it has chosen to oppose them.