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This happened 12 years ago when the FBI tried to eavesdrop on conversations taking place in a car with OnStar or a similar device. Agents wanted to remotely activate the car's microphone; I wrote about the case here: http://news.cnet.com/Court-to-FBI-No-spying-on-in-car-comput...

The 9th Circuit said "no," but the court's reasoning wasn't based on privacy concerns. The reasoning was that companies can only be forced to comply with wiretaps when the order would cause a "minimum of interference" (and the FBI's tap would have disabled the call-an-operator feature if there were an emergency, which exceeded the "minimum of interference" threshold).

This is not unique to Google, which has done a better job than just about any company I can think of at fighting off overly broad surveillance demands; see my post from two years ago for examples: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5725899

Why could Apple, Microsoft, or Samsung not be compelled -- let's assume an actual court order exists -- to deliver a software update to a specific user that allows FBI agents remote access to that device microphone? Or AT&T? Or Verizon? We know from recent history that AT&T is hardly likely to put up a fight.

I wrote more about the outer limits of the Feds' surveillance authority here: http://www.cnet.com/news/how-the-u-s-forces-net-firms-to-coo... Excerpt: "Precedents were established a decade or so ago when the government obtained legal orders compelling companies to install custom eavesdropping hardware on their networks..." And earlier: "In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that surveillance law is a "direct command to federal courts to compel, upon request, any assistance necessary to accomplish an electronic interception..."

In terms of a hierarchy of privacy protection, I trust technology > courts > Congress > DOJ oversight > FBI.

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