President George Washington signed into law the All Writs Act in 1789 that required, in part, for companies to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to help the government decrypt technical messages it otherwise could not without help; the federal government now argues that this provision (enacted well before the existence of the phone) provides grounds for the government to require tech companies to release encryption information (if they even store it) that disallows agents from entering the phones acquired from targets of investigation.
This brings up several salient points in today's culture of forgotten privacy rights. The first is critical: encrypt your phone. Put a password on your phone that disallows the government from unlocking your phone with a simple swipe. There are also several password applications that will randomize your passwords and make it difficult for anyone else, hackers or the government, to access critical information you want to keep private.
The second is the extent to which tech companies are required to make their devices encryption friendly. Will Apple have to make products from hereon out that prevents users from setting difficult passwords to enter the phone without a simple search? The federal government seems headed in that direction despite the lack of security such a policy could create.
Another issue is how to translate the All Writs Act in today's time. Should we be worried about the fact that a law from 1789 promises to impact technology's cutting edge and its fierce defense of privacy and security from unreasonable searches? For more information check out the ABA Journal's post and the other law blogs that comment on this interesting development in the law. You can find that here.