[Re-blogged from The Guardian]

The law requires a balance between flexibility and tyranny, and was never intended to allow the government to dictate software design

All Writs Act: Congress wanted to give the government enough power to govern effectively, but also to set up limits so that the new government didn’t become a tyranny. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Apple’s celebrated fight with the FBI over the security of its encrypted iPhones has shone the spotlight on an old and obscure federal law from 1789 known as the All Writs Act (AWA).

The AWA is a short little statute, giving federal courts the power to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”

The FBI argues that the AWA empowers a court to order Apple to create custom software to circumvent the security on an iPhone possessed by one of the San Bernadino shooting suspects.

Passed by the First Congress in 1789, this little law is a piece of Swiss Army knife legislation that the FBI is trying to turn into a giant sword, out of all proportion to what it is supposed to do. But if we want to make sense of the current security and privacy controversy pitting the FBI against the tech giant, it helps to understand what the AWA is and what its limits are.

Read more at The Guardian.

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