Judge Rules in Separate Case That Apple Does NOT Have To Unlock an iPhone

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  1. dgstorm

    dgstorm Editor in Chief Staff Member

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    The biggest mobile tech news case that has been dominating the headlines (other than US politics) has been the feud between Apple and the FBI. It's back in the news cycle this morning, but in a separate case than the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone.

    As a recap, the FBI has ordered Apple to hack/unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, and Apple refused because it would require them to create software which would compromise the security of all of their iPhones. Apple also argued that it is a dangerous violation of civil rights and is unconstitutional for the FBI to even ask. Apple even went as far as filing a motion to have the FBI's court order vacated. That case is still pending, but that's not actually the case making the headlines today.

    Apparently, there is another case in New York in which the FBI has ordered Apple to unlock an iPhone which was seized as evidence in a drug trafficking case. In that case, the iPhone in question is actually an older device, and it would be much easier for Apple to unlock the device. Despite that, Apple has argued against the order, claiming that unlocking the device would, "substantially tarnish the Apple brand." Judge James Orenstein, who is presiding over the New York case actually agreed with Apple's argument, and ruled that the FBI can NOT order Apple to unlock the device.

    In this case, the FBI also attempted to compel Apple using the All Writs Act, just as it has in the San Bernardino shooting. In four separate parts of Judge Orenstein's legal brief he made these points,
    • "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.
    • "The extraordinary relief [the government] seeks cannot be considered 'agreeable to the usages and principles of law.'"
    • "It is also clear that the government has made the considered decision that it is better off securing such crypto-legislative authority from the courts, rather than taking the chance that open legislative debate might produce a result less to its liking."
    • "The government should not be able to run to court to get the surveillance power that Congress has deliberately kept from it. The future of digital privacy also hangs in the balance. If the government can force companies to weaken the security of their products, then we all lose."
    Orenstein's final point (paraphrasing) was that the FBI and the Department of Justice were trying to circumvent the system by gaining broad authority that is not expressly permitted in the Constitution. He acknowledged that the digital age has created a complex situation, but that arbitrarily granting power to the FBI in this case would be unlawful. Furthermore, there needs to be more discourse on this matter through new legislation and not law enforcement.

    So, basically, this judge concurs with Apple's assessment that Congress needs to address these technological hurdles through new legislation designed to work for 21st Century technology, and find a way to make it work without bypassing the Constitution in the process.

    In a final note on this particular case, an Apple executive made it clear that this is not a binding legal precedent in regard to the San Bernardino case, yet it is still "an important precedent of opinion."

    Source: NBCNews
     

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