Apple today released a letter to its customers that is extraordinary in its content, and strongly related to today’s post about the UK’s “snooper’s charter”. The UK government has stated they do not want to mandate backdoors into security products.

The situation has suddenly become very different in the US. Apple is claiming that the FBI has demanded a new version of the iPhone iOS that can be installed on any existing iPhone to enable the FBI to unlock it. In effect, the FBI is demanding a backdoor into the iPhone. Now this isn’t the same as being able to decrypt iPhone communications – apparently it could only be used to unlock an iPhone someone has in their physical possession.

But Apple is arguing that such a tool is a master key to any iPhone, and a huge security risk. It is comparable to having a key that can unlock anyone’s front door.

The FBI is justifying this via the All Writs Act of 1789, which is a two sentence act that gives federal courts the authority to issue court orders (writs) that are “necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” It’s an all-purpose law that is increasingly being used to order manufacturers to unlock phones.

The details of the court order can be found here.