New York Judge Rules U.S. Government Can't Force Apple to Unlock an iPhone

iPhone-PasscodeAlongside its battle with the U.S. government over an order to break into the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, Apple has also been embroiled in a dispute over a similar case in New York. In late 2015, the Department of Justice asked a NY federal magistrate judge to order Apple to help authorities gain access to an iPhone seized as evidence in a drug trafficking case.

At the time, Apple explained that while it could technically unlock the iPhone in question because it was running an older version of iOS, being forced to comply with the order could "substantially tarnish the Apple brand." This afternoon, Judge James Orenstein, who is presiding over the New York case, decided in favor of Apple (via TechCrunch), handing down a ruling that could potentially impact the much more prominent San Bernardino dispute.

According to the New York ruling, Apple cannot be forced to help law enforcement access data on an iPhone using the justification that the court has the power to make such an order under the All Writs Act, an argument the FBI also uses in the San Bernardino case. Apple has also argued the All Writs Act does not give the government a pass to "conscript and commandeer" the company.

"The established rules for interpreting a statute's text constrain me to reject the government's interpretation that the AWA empowers a court to grant any relief not outright prohibited by law," writes Orenstein. "The extraordinary relief [the government] seeks cannot be considered 'agreeable to the usages and principles of law,'" reads another section. He goes on to outline his reasoning and concludes with the opinion that the larger issue of encryption should be decided by legislation, not by the court.
In deciding this motion, I offer no opinion as to whether, in the circumstances of this case or others, the government's legitimate interest in ensuring that no door is too strong to resist lawful entry should prevail against the equally legitimate societal interests arrayed against it here. [...]

How best to balance those interests is a matter of critical importance to our society, and the need for an answer becomes more pressing daily, as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther past the boundaries of what seemed possible even a few decades ago.

But that debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive. It would betray our constitutional heritage and our people's claim to democratic governance for a judge to pretend that our Founders already had that debate, and ended it, in 1789.
According to TechCrunch, a senior Apple executive has suggested that while New York case does not set a binding legal precedent in regard to the San Bernardino case, it sets "an important precedent of opinion."

Apple has officially opposed an order that would require it to help the FBI break into the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook and will now face off against the government in court on March 22.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

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51 months ago
I like this judge.
Rating: 52 Votes
51 months ago
The difference between a judge that understands technology and one that doesn't.
Rating: 40 Votes
51 months ago
Looks like there are still some good judges out there.
Rating: 34 Votes
51 months ago
Sanity prevails in NY
Rating: 32 Votes
51 months ago
Very good news! Thank you Judge!
Rating: 27 Votes
51 months ago
A preview for what's in store for the FBI. We can't establish a precedent of the government forcing private companies to write software for them.
Rating: 21 Votes
51 months ago
I love how this judge points out the absurdity of citing a 200 year old law in respect to an iPhone.
Rating: 18 Votes
51 months ago
There is such a thing as a fair judge after all ;)
Rating: 16 Votes
51 months ago

Sounds sensible, except that companies are sometimes ordered to collect any and all information they have about someone.

Which Apple has done. You DO understand that, right? There seems to be this weird mistake going around that Apple has done nothing to help the FBI and is just refusing them flat out. But that's not the case. Everything Apple has, every trick to get info on these people, they've given it to the FBI. What the FBI wants, however, if for Apple to create a program they do NOT have in order to get access to any iPhone they want.

Imagine a maker of safes. Someone locks their info in a safe. The FBI goes to the safe maker. "Tell us all you know about this person." The safe-maker does so. Every scrap of information. Then the FBI says, "We need you to break into their safe. "We don't know how to do that," the makers say. It turns out that this is a special safe with a code that the owner gets to set. And not even the safe-maker can decode it once that is done. In short, the safe makers DO NOT KNOW that information. And can't give it to the FBI.

But the FBI says, "Well, we want you safe makers to create a special key for this thing which will bi-pass the code and let us right in." The safe makers say: "We want you to get into this one safe, but if we created such a key, you could get into any safe we've made. You could open the safes of people who haven't committed crimes. And what if this key fell into the wrong hands, and criminals used it to rob all our customers. This key you're asking for, would make our safes pointless."

And the FBI says, "We will take this go a judge and force you to do it."

Which brings up an interesting thought. If the FBI wins, couldn't coders at Apple quit and say, "We don't work for Apple." And thus, Apple no longer has anyone to do it? Can the FBI force any citizen to create something for them that they feel they need for any reason? Isn't that, um, well, slavery?

Anyway, the point, is what you're arguing is Apples and oranges. Apple has given the FBI what they know, and information that Apple has on file is NOT what the FBI is after. What they want is for Apple to create a key to give them access to any iPhone. So, all the info on your kids, finances, and health? This key, if created, would give it to anyone who owned it. FBI or otherwise. I, myself, would rather Apple didn't create it.
Rating: 11 Votes
51 months ago
Great news!
Rating: 8 Votes

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