Future Tense

The Sickest Burns From the Apple/FBI Dispute This Week

Bring it.


For the last few weeks Apple and the FBI have been duking it out in court over whether Apple can be compelled to unlock one of the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhones. And as the case drags on, everyone is getting a little testy.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker filed a 43-page reply to Apple for the Justice Department, supporting the FBI’s original claims that it is asking Apple to unlock only this particular phone, that the request is not an undue burden, and that Apple will be able to protect the tool it creates from criminals and foreign governments. But the dialogue is getting pretty salty.

The brief asserts that “Apple deliberately raised technological barriers.“ It goes on to offer some psychoanalysis of the company. “Apple desperately wants—desperately needs—this case not to be ‘about one isolated iPhone.’ ” (Emphasis theirs.)

And if you think asking the company to build this unlocking tool is going to be burdensome, keep in mind that “Apple is a Fortune 5 corporation with tremendous power and means.” Sure. “It has more than 100,000 full-time-equivalent employees and had an annual income of over $200 billion dollars in fiscal year 2015—more than the operating budget for California.” Yeah, true. “Indeed, Apple’s revenues exceed the nominal GDPs of two thirds of the world’s nations.” … OK, we get it, the company’s rich.

Basically, Apple is what’s wrong with America. “Apple’s rhetoric is not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights: the courts, the Fourth Amendment, longstanding precedent and venerable laws, and the democratically elected branches of government.“

Apple did not appreciate the DoJ’s tone. In an initial response, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell said Thursday (as transcribed by Business Insider) that, “In 30 years of practice I don’t think I’ve seen a legal brief that was more intended to smear the other side with false accusations and innuendo, and less intended to focus on the real merits of the case.” He called various DoJ claims “deeply offensive,” “ridiculous,” and “demeaning,” and said the whole thing was a “cheap shot brief.”

As the DoJ did with Apple, Sewell speculated about his opponent’s state of mind. “I can only conclude that the DoJ is so desperate at this point that it has thrown all decorum to the winds,” he said. And he offered a warning at the end of his remarks. “Everyone should beware because it seems like disagreeing with the Department of Justice means you must be evil and anti-American.”

Sick burns, all. It would be nice if these two major U.S. institutions could keep things civil, but the more drama there is, the better the inevitable movies about this showdown will be.