A federal judge just ruled that Apple has no legal obligation to help the FBI.
The Brooklyn judge says that the FBI cannot force Apple to open a locked iPhone that was used by a suspected drug dealer.
The ruling comes as a boost to Apple in their battle with the federal government over access to locked devices.
Though this New York ruling is not binding on a judge in California who is now presiding over the separate case of access to a locked iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, it allows the company precedence to argue that they are not required to help the FBI.
Now, the New York, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein explained that the FBI cannot force Apple to unlock the phone. He said this is because “Congress specifically considered and rejected a bill that would require companies like Apple to make the data on a locked iPhone available to law enforcement,” according to NBC.
“What the government could not achieve in Congress, the judge said, it cannot now get from the courts,” explained local NBC reporters.
“The relief the government seeks is unavailable because Congress has considered legislation that would achieve the same result but has not adopted it,” the judge said.
“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,” Orenstein continued, “rather than taking the chance that open legislative debate might produce a result less to its liking.”
Orenstein added “that finding a balance between the competing interests of the governments investigative powers and unwarranted intrusion was a debate needs to take place sooner rather than later,” reporters explained.
Judge Orenstein said that the FBI was placing an unjust burden on the company, an argument Apple has made in the San Bernardino case.
“The assistance the government seeks here — bypassing a security measure that Apple affirmatively markets to its customers — is not something that Apple would normally do in the conduct of its own business and is, at least now, plainly offensive to it,” Orenstein explained.
The judge “completely sides with Apple,” a senior Apple executive explained to reporters.
“It’s the first case any court has had to directly and specifically address” the issues involved in both cases.
A Justice Department said the government is “disappointed”.
“Apple expressly agreed to assist the government in accessing the data on this iPhone — as it had many times before in similar circumstances — and only changed course when the government’s application for assistance was made public by the court,” the Department of Justice spokesperson said. “This phone may contain evidence that will assist us in an active criminal investigation and we will continue to use the judicial system in our attempt to obtain it.”
“This is a victory for privacy, security, and common sense,” Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project explained. “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.”
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(Article by M. David)