The FBI has long sought to get around the encryption of data in our personal digital devices. It has tried, and often failed, to coerce Apple and other companies to give it a backdoor into our devices. As the ACLU notes, “between our emails, text messages, location information, social media activity, and more, our cellphones hold almost our entire lives.”
That is why the ACLU was more than a little alarmed to learn of the FBI’s Electronic Device Analysis Unit (EDAU), an in-house team capable of breaking into our personal devices. ACLU reports it has discovered public records that indicate that EDAU appears able to access encrypted information from a locked iPhone.
Concerned, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking records about EDAU and its activities. What it received in response was a “Glomar” response – which refuses to confirm or deny the existence of any such records.
This is peculiar. After all, ACLU learned of EDAU through public documents. So such documents are known to exist. The FBI has no basis to deny ACLU’s request.
The ACLU then took the next logical step. Yesterday, it asked a federal court to intervene and order DOJ and the FBI to turn over all responsive documents relating to the EDAU.
ACLU said: “We’re demanding the government release records concerning any policies applicable to the EDAU, its technological capability to unlock or access electronic devices, and its requests for, purchase of, or uses of software that could enable it to bypass encryption.”
The FBI might claim authority to surveil cellphone data with probable cause warrants as required by the Constitution. If that’s the case, then, why the secrecy? There is no reason for the FBI to withhold information about the scope and duties of this new unit.