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New York judge rules that the government can’t force Apple to unlock an iPhone

iPhone Touch ID

As Apple’s battle with the FBI drags on this week, a judge in New York has added a new wrinkle to the case. A magistrate judge in New York today has ruled that the government, using the All Writs Act, cannot force Apple to unlock an iPhone. This specific case this judge presides over is a drug trafficking investigation, which was mentioned last week as one of the more than a dozen other cases in which the government is asking Apple to help it obtain data from a locked iPhone.

The judge, James Ornstein, says in his ruling that the government has failed to provide any reasoning that the All Writs Act gives it the ability to force Apple to create a tool to obtain data from a locked iPhone. In this specific case, the iPhone in question belonged to a meth dealer (via the WSJ)

I conclude that under the circumstances of this case, the government has failed to establish either that the AWA permits the relief it seeks or that, even if such an order is authorized, the discretionary factors I must consider weigh in favor of granting the motion.

After reviewing the facts in the record and the parties’ arguments, I conclude that none of those factors justifies imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against its will.

Furthermore, the judge noted that how the government is interpreting the All Writs Act is so far-reaching “as to cast doubt on its constitutionality if adopted.” Ornstein added that in this day in age, issues with technology privacy should be decided by today’s lawmakers, not by a law created in 1789:

“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,’’ Judge Orenstein wrote.

While the circumstances in this case are far different than the ones in the San Bernardino case, the ruling gives Apple an upper hand going into its legal fight with the FBI. Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell is set to testify before Congress tomorrow.

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  1. jacosta45 - 7 years ago

    One win!

    • applenthusiast - 7 years ago

      This isn’t going to stop until the Supreme Court weighs in.

      • iSRS - 7 years ago

        While true, the more lower court cases Apple wins, the more the government is going to be the one appealing. This will, ultimately, help Apple. While I fully believe the SCOTUS will side with Apple regardless who brings the case to them, I really can’t believe they would overturn the lower courts siding with the people over the government.

      • taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

        8 judges in the Supreme Court now since the reucians want to violate the constitution and and not go through the procedures to nominate and appoint another one.

        If the votes tie the lower court decision holds up. So these lower court rulings are very important for Apple.

      • iSRS - 7 years ago

        Can we not get into the name calling of one party or the other? To my knowledge, Obama hasn’t nominated anyone yet. When he he does, and if/when some go out of their way to impede the process, then take action. Until then, all it does is weaken your argument, which I happen to agree with.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Which is why we need a liberal justice appointed to SCOTUS…I think Obama should just troll everyone and nominate himself.

  2. viciosodiego - 7 years ago

    I’m glad there is someone in the system that has a brane and common sense..

  3. viciosodiego - 7 years ago

    The GOP is going to be so butthert.

  4. Jim T (@JimT1246) - 7 years ago

    I thought they wanted just that *one* San Bernadino phone unlocked just this *one* time. This wasn’t going to be an ongoing thing so there was no threat to iPhone security. It didn’t take long for THAT story to blow up.

    • Wyatt - 7 years ago

      It’s never “just this one time” when law enforcement or government is involved. Give either an inch and they’ll both take a mile.

  5. Jake Becker - 7 years ago

    Whoa, dude must be from out of state.

  6. Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

    I have a feeling this will go on longer than the Apple/Samsung case.

  7. Mario Savioni - 7 years ago

    Yea, file a request with the FISA court.

  8. Aunty T (@AuntyTroll) - 7 years ago

    This is a serious question:

    If the phone was an Android, or made by Blackberry or anyone else apart from Apple, would you still feel the same or would you be clamouring for said companies to do the decent thing and crack the phone for the security of the American people?

    • iSRS - 7 years ago

      Can’t speak for anyone else, but I would be acting the same way. Because I am not myopic in my view or naïve enough to think this is an Apple issue exclusively. It has nothing to do with the individual companies. It has to do with us as individuals

    • Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

      My response would be the same. In fact I spoke out when BlackBerry started allowing some governments into their “secure” messaging system.

    • JBDragon - 7 years ago

      Fact of the matter is, a Android phone is the perfect Terrorist phone!!! As a Terrorist would you trust a American iPhone and it’s encryption? Much better off buying cheap Android phones and throwing on any number of 3rd party Encryption software that have no back door and not a thing the U.S. Government could ever do about it.

      I know fandroids don’t care much, after all they’re using a phone wide open to spy on people because it’s from a Advertising company. I would expect nothing less. Still for those that care and install something on their own and block Google, I’m all for those phones being locked tight just like a iPhone. Weak Encryption for a false sense of security is just that. I don’t care if it’s iOS, Windows, Android, LINUX, Blackberry, etc. There should be NO BACK DOORS. The whole iCloud hack with Celebrity nude pictures leaked out was bad enough.

      What’s the percentage of Terrorists in the U.S? .00001%? So everyone else should be screwed with weak security? I don’t think so.


Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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