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New York judge rules U.S. government can’t force Apple to unlock iPhones

Updated Feb 29th, 2016 6:29PM EST
iPhone Hacking
Image: Niels Epting

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Just one day before Apple is set to take part in a congressional hearing on encryption, a federal judge out of New York issued a ruling stating that the U.S. government cannot rely upon the All Writs Act to force Apple to unlock an iPhone that was seized as part of a drug case.

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“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,” Judge James Orenstein’s order reads in part.

“Nothing in the government’s arguments suggests any principled limit on how far a court may go in requiring a person or company to violate the most deeply-rooted values to provide assistance to the government the court deems necessary.”

The Washington Post adds:

Orenstein found that the All Writs Act does not apply in instances where Congress had the opportunity but failed to create an authority for the government to get the type of help it was seeking, such as having firms ensure they have a way to obtain data from encrypted phones.

He also found that ordering Apple to help the government by extracting data from the iPhone- which belonged to a drug dealer –would place an unreasonable burden on the company.

While this is a separate case from Apple’s ongoing legal tussle with the FBI and is not at all binding in other jurisdictions, the ruling is arguably an encouraging sign as Apple gears up for what may be a protracted legal battle with the FBI over the locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The full order can be viewed in its entirety below.

Orenstein Order


Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.