In a disturbing case involving the sex trafficking of minors, the 11th Circuit Appeals Court has reached a few interesting conclusions involving digital searches and the Fourth Amendment. Included in the court’s findings are rulings on the use of the All Writs Act to force Apple to unlock a device, an email warrant served to Microsoft, and warrants used to obtain a vast amount of information from Facebook. [h/t Orin Kerr]The All Writs Act received a ton of free publicity thanks to Apple’s fight with the DOJ over the (forced) unlocking of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. Ultimately, the DOJ hired outside help to crack open the phone, abandoning its search for helpful precedent. (And, ultimately, the phone — the shooter’s work-issued phone — contained nothing of interest.)
Here, the Appeals Court finds [PDF] there’s nothing wrong with using the 1789 All Writs Act to paper over holes in the 200+ years of legislation.The authority granted by the All Writs Act is broad but not boundless. The Act “is a residual source of authority” that permits issuing writs only if they “are not otherwise covered by statute.” Penn. Bureau of Corr. v. U.S. Marshals Serv., 474 U.S. 34, 43, 106 S. Ct. 355, 361 (1985). It is a gap filler. “Where a statute specifically addresses the particular issue at hand, it is that authority, and not the All Writs Act, that is controlling.” Id. And where Congress has proscribed a certain type of judicial action, the Act cannot overcome that proscription. See id. The bypass order meets this requirement because no statute expressly permits or prohibits it.