The FBI has been asking OEMs such as Apple and Google for help to unlock their devices for quite some time, on at least 63 occasions.
The recent iPhone unlock case may have been more mediatized, but it's not the only scenario in which the feds asked for access to data stored on various phones.
By now, most people are likely aware of the government's attempts to use the All Writs Act from 1789 as a tool to force Apple write new software with weaker security so that feds could unlock an iPhone 5c they had in custody. Authorities ultimately managed to unlock the iPhone without Apple's help, but they're still using the 1789's law to urge other technology companies to break into their devices.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published new data on March 30, revealing that the feds have actually asked both Apple and Google to help authorities break into phones on at least 63 occasions. The ACLU even offers an interactive map of the 63 cases.
The majority of those requests - 90 percent - targeted Apple, while Google received the remaining 10 percent of requests to unlock phones running Android.
According to federal prosecutors, Apple reportedly started resisting such nudges late last year. Until then, however, judges commonly approved such requests from federal prosecutors, with cases dating all the way back to 2008.
It remains unclear at this point just how many times the companies complied with the government's requests, but Google says that such cases never escalated as much as the recent Apple encryption debacle.
"We carefully scrutinize subpoenas and court orders to make sure they meet both the letter and spirit of the law," says a Google spokesman in a statement to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). "However, we've never received an All Writs Act order like the one Apple recently fought that demands we build new tools that actively compromise our products' security... We would strongly object to such an order."
The whole encryption issue and the FBI's iPhone unlock without Apple's help left many questions unanswered and birthed some new concerns, and it seems the matter is far from over.
It remains to be seen how things will unfold and what other matters will come to the surface following this whole controversy, but we're surely bound to hear more on the topic.