Apple got its wish Monday after a federal judge in Brooklyn denied a Department of Justice request for a court order that would have compelled it to hack into the iPhone of a criminal defendant in a drug case. The decision possibly will bolster the smartphone maker’s resistance in the San Bernardino shooting case.
Some relief for Apple
On Monday, Judge James Orenstein ruled that government lawyers were unable to establish that the federal All Writs Act, which the government used to seek the order, is applicable in the case. According to Orenstein, 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 concluded it did not.
Orenstein came to this decision after weighing Apple’s closeness between 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,” said the 50-page ruling.
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The government was disappointed by the ruling and plans to appeal it to a Brooklyn district court judge. The government said Apple expressly agreed to assist them, but after the news was made public, it changed course.
Will the Brooklyn case impact the San Bernardino case?
For Apple, this ruling comes as a small victory as it has been arguing that it should not be forced to violate the privacy and breach the confidence of its customers. The smartphone maker is still refusing an order from a judge in California to help the FBI unlock the iPhone used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino shooting, which led to 14 deaths.
Judge Sheri Pym, the California magistrate presiding over the legal struggle over hacking into the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan, will not be bound by the Brooklyn ruling but will consider the legal reasoning in Orenstein’s ruling.
Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor, told USA Today that this is a very important decision and that other courts where it isn’t binding will look to this order and read the judge’s reasoning. Both cases are in the early legal stages under magistrate judges, who stand below district court judges. This could result into a lengthy appeal process, unless the case is fast-tracked by a higher court.