Judge rules FBI can’t order Apple to unlock iPhone in New York case

A federal judge has ruled the government cannot use the All Writs Act to force Apple to unlock an iPhone, a judgement that could have far-reaching implications in Apple’s ongoing legal battle with the FBI, Reuters reports. While all eyes are on Apple’s public debate with the FBI over whether or not the company should unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorists, a similar case has been working its way through appeals courts. Last October the Department of Justice dismissed Apple’s argument against helping the government break into the iPhone of a suspected drug dealer, saying the company’s operating system is “licensed, not sold” to users. But U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein disagreed with the DOJ’s assessment, stating that he does not have the legal authority to order Apple to disable the phone’s security measures.
Orenstein made it clear that his ruling was not on “whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act (AWA) resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come.” Orenstein contends that the AWA can’t be used in this case and others like it, because the government’s reading of the act is so expansive it would “cast doubt on the AWA’s constitutionality if adopted.” A senior Apple executive who asked not to be named said the decision bodes well for the company in the San Bernardino case, which relies mostly on the same arguments that Orenstein rejected. Although the Brooklyn court’s decision is not binding for U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in the San Bernardino case, the ruling is still influential since it marks the first time Apple used the courts to resist unlocking an iPhone for authorities and will clearly demand consideration given the timing. A representative for the DOJ said the department is “disappointed” and plans to ask a higher court to review the decision.

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