A federal judge in Brooklyn on Monday denied a Department of Justice request for a court order that would force Apple to bypass the security passcode on the iPhone of a criminal defendant in a drug case.
In a ruling expected to influence the outcome of Apple’s fight with the U.S. government over the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled government lawyers failed to establish that the federal All Writs Act the government relied on to seek the order applies in the case.
The question “is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it to come,” he wrote. He concluded it did not.
The decision comes on the eve of Congressional testimony by Apple and the FBI to the House Judiciary Committee over encryption and privacy. In a high-profile dispute with the federal government, Apple says it will refuse an order by a judge in California that it unlock an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the December shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., which left 14 dead. That’s pitted the consumer device giant against the Department of Justice, which maintains Apple should help law enforcement on what it considers an isolated request.
Monday’s ruling in New York marks a significant, if at least a temporary, legal victory for Apple, which has argued that it should not be forced to violate the privacy expectations of customers who buy its products.
The 50-page ruling on the New York request said Orenstein made the decision after weighing the relative closeness of Apple’s relationship to the underlying criminal case and government investigation, the burden the requested order would place on the company and the “necessity of imposing such a burden on Apple.”
None of those factors justifies imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against the company’s will, he wrote.
The decision sets the stage for appeals that could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What today’s ruling proves is that Apple’s objections to the order aren’t frivolous and indeed might well be meritorious,” said Steven Vladeck, professor at American University’s Washington College of the Law.
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SOURCE: Kevin McCoy