The FBI’s battle against Apple is over for the time being, but now the focus may be on Google. Court documents recently released by the ACLU show this isn’t the first time the Federal Bureau of Investigation has tried to order a tech company to unlock phones for them. The documents show that Google received similar orders to unlock at least 9 Android phones, with the FBI citing the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify their actions (this is the same act cited in the Apple case). There have been 63 confirmed cases, spanning over a considerable number of years, in which the FBI has asked either Google or Apple to help them unlock a certain device.
Although the outcome of each case isn’t clear, it’s well known that Google can remotely reset Android device passwords, as made public by the New York District Attorney. Unlike Apple, Google can reset pass codes for roughly 74% of Android-users. The technical differences between Google and Apple are partly due to the fact that Google makes the operating system used by Android devices, but the system runs on phones that are manufactured by third parties. Apple, on the other hand, creates their devices and runs them on their own operating system.
Google has addressed the controversy: “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.”
Only time will tell how this information will impact future cases involving the FBI, Apple and Google. At Golden Frog, we stand for privacy and strongly oppose compromising user security through backdoor encryption. Read more about our stance on Apple vs. FBI.