On Thursday, US NGO American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) managed to obtain court documents listing all the cases in which the federal government has demanded that Apple unlock its devices on the grounds of the 1789 law All Writs Act.
Of the 63 cases uncovered by ACLU, one seems eerily similar to San Bernardino's and it is currently playing out in Boston.
Last November, police in Massachusetts recovered an iPhone while busting Boston-based drug gang Columbia Point Dawgz. The device belonged to suspected gang member Desmond Crawford, and it was found alongside a far less sophisticated AT&T flip-phone.
Upon seizing the iPhone, the FBI obtained a court order "requiring Apple, Inc. to assist in the execution of the search warrant by bypassing the lock screen of the iOS device," in order to get hold of more information.
One would think that the FBI might now deploy a similar — yet unknown — technique which it used to penetrate the San Bernardino's phone, thanks to help from a third-party company. According to some reports, the company is Israel-based forensics firm Cellebrite.
But according to Motherboard, the iPhone found in Boston is a newer model than the one found in California. This means it has additional layers of encryption which make it harder to crack. Apple could therefore, once again be forced hard to devise a way for bypassing the phone's security — and the company would certainly resist the demands.
It is unclear whether the FBI is determined to make a fuss over this trial however, seeing as it's a drug-related case rather than a terrorism one, making the national security implications less serious than with San Bernardino.
The Boston case however, gives us a glimpse of the world to come — a scenario of continuous one-upmanship between authorities and tech companies in which the former wield court orders and willful hackers-for-hire to undo the ever-stronger encryption technologies the latter keep rolling out.
Just days ago, as the battle with FBI was still raging, Apple announced in an event in California that its new devices would sport stronger security features. Rather than a one-off battle, it seems we are in for a long game of cat and mouse.