Posted on March 22, 2016 (November 29, 2018) Share: Today, our Legal Director Ron Fein published a piece on Truthout, discussing Apple’s ongoing legal feud with the FBI about unlocking an iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino terror suspects. According to Fein, Apple’s fight is shaping up to be one of the most prominent corporate personhood cases of the year–and its significance follows cases like 2010’s Citizens United ruling and 2014’s Hobby Lobby decision. Expanding corporate personhood in this instance could lead us into far more perilous territory than Apple reveals, “but the legal issues go beyond the particular facts, or even broader concerns about public safety, privacy and encryption.” Apple based its argument off of several constitutional claims—mostly focusing on the First and Fifth Amendment—which Fein outlines in this piece, here, and here. This week, the case experienced an unfortunate twist when the FBI announced that it may have found a way to hack the iPhone without Apple’s help, and a judge was asked to postpone today’s hearing into mid-April. While some in the tech world view this as the FBI throwing in the towel on the legal case, that’s not entirely certain, according to Fein. No matter the ruling, “the case raises deep questions about how far we want to travel in granting more and more constitutional rights to corporations.” What are those corporate constitutional rights claimed by Apple? Here’s a look at claim number one: Apple’s first constitutional claim is that the court order violates the company’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. According to Apple, the order compels “speech” because complying would require the company to write software code (tweaks to the iOS operating system) that the company would rather not write. And the second claim: Apple’s second constitutional argument cites the Fifth Amendment, which says that no “person” can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” According to Apple, requiring technical assistance here would deprive it of “liberty.” So far, though, corporate personhood hasn’t swallowed the due process clause. Longstanding precedent — stemming from an insurance company’s attempt to challenge a consumer protection law making it harder for insurers to deny life insurance coverage — holds that due process protects “the liberty of natural, not artificial, persons.” Apple cites stirring Supreme Court language about “protection of the individual,” but that gives away the game. Apple isn’t an “individual,” and as an artificial legal entity, it doesn’t have the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And last (but not least): The final (and most colorful) corporate personhood argument comes from an amicus brief by Lavabit, a software company that had its own run-in with the US government over encryption. Lavabit contends that a court order violates theThirteenth Amendment, which was passed to end slavery. Under Lavabit’s theory, the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits “forcing labor” on a corporation. But its argument is so broad that it could also apply to emergency cleanup orders under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Companies facing these orders, like a drilling company accused of contaminating Texas groundwater, sometimes resist these orders. Giving them a Thirteenth Amendment argument would only encourage recalcitrance. The danger in the First, Fifth and Thirteenth Amendment arguments is that the constitutional theories behind them usually “escape the confines of their original cases.” In recent years, that has translated towards a trend expanded corporate constitutional rights. And expanding those rights yet again could lead us into far more perilous territory than Apple reveals. To read the Truthout op-ed in full, click here.