There are plenty of places for you to educate yourself on the subject outside of Slashdot. I would strongly recommend that you do your homework in the future.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides, "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly ...
Demanding a company perform an action which is ILLEGAL in all other circumstances meets and exceeds the definition of abuse of power. If you want to use the common, and somewhat fallacious, argument of a safe: A safe maker may be compelled to produce a key for a safe, and reimbursed for the cost of making said key. If the safe owner modified the lock and the key does not work, the Government can NOT compel the safe maker to blow open the safe.
What the Government is demanding is not just for Apple to blow up the safe, they are requesting a permanent opening be made in ALL safes for their convenience. The only way this would meet probable cause would be to claim that ALL citizens are criminals. That last part is a violation of much more than the 4th amendment.
This is not a Fourth Amendment issue. Instead, this is an issue regarding the All Writs Act, which states in its entirety:
(a) The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.
Four conditions must be met before a court can order a third-party to do something under the All Writs Act:
- The absence of alternative remedies—the act is only applicable when other judicial tools are not available.
- An independent basis for jurisdiction—the act authorizes writs in aid of jurisdiction, but does not in itself create any federal subject-matter jurisdiction.
- Necessary or appropriate in aid of jurisdiction—the writ must be necessary or appropriate to the particular case.
- Usages and principles of law—the statute requires courts to issue writs "agreeable to the usages and principles of law."
Apple is challenging all but the second of those requirements, and is also arguing that its First Amendment rights against compelled speech is infringed. There is enough analysis elsewhere on Apple's argument that I won't repeat it.
Why isn't this a Fourth Amendment issue? Being compelled to perform an action, whether it be in the case of a locksmith opening a safe or a telephone company installing pen registers, is not a Fourth Amendment issue. Additionally, a warrant or consent overcomes the protection against searches and seizures. There is no doubt that a judge would issue a warrant to search the phone. Most importantly, the actual owner is the county, not the terrorist, and the county provided consent to search the phone.
Please read the briefs. They are entertaining reads. We need to focus on where our outrage should be targeted, and in this circumstance, it's not the government's abuse of the Fourth Amendment.