Judge Rules Apple Can't Be Forced to Help Unlock Phone
A Brooklyn magistrate judge has denied prosecution attempts to force Apple Inc. to assist with law enforcement efforts to unlock a smartphone in a drug case.
Eastern District Magistrate Judge James Orenstein concluded Monday that a centuries-old law invoked by the government provided no basis to compel the computer maker's assistance.
The ruling puts Orenstein at odds with a California magistrate judge who said the All Writs Act of 1789 permitted prosecutors to obtain Apple's "reasonable technical assistance" to unlock an iPhone used by a man who, with his wife, killed 14 people in a San Bernardino terror attack. Apple is challenging the order.
In the Brooklyn case—a narcotics matter where the defendant has already pleaded guilty—Orenstein said, "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."
In his 50-page decision, Orenstein said he would not opine on whether "the government's legitimate interest in ensuring that no door is too strong to resist lawful entry should prevail against the equally legitimate societal interests arrayed against it here."
Balancing those interests is critically important, he said, "and the need for an answer becomes more pressing daily, as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther past the boundaries of what seemed possible even a few decades ago."
Still, he said, that debate must be waged by lawmakers.
A senior Apple executive said during a conference call Monday that Orenstein's decision was important but not a binding precedent and would have a persuasive effect in the San Bernardino case.
A Justice Department spokesman said the agency was disappointed in the ruling and planned to appeal in the coming days.
The case is In re Order Requiring Apple Inc. to Assist in the Execution of a Search Warrant Issued by This Court, 15-mc-1902. Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202750994004/Judge-Rules-Apple-Cant-Be-Forced-to-Help-Unlock-Phone#ixzz41fGj7T9I