Apple has been enmeshed in a dispute with the FBI since mid-February when Judge Sheri Pym demanded that Apple unlock the phone of Syed Farook – one of the San Bernardino shooters – to assist the FBI in its investigation. This week, a New York judge declared that the FBI cannot force Apple to unlock its phones. But the ruling is related to a different case.
Meth dealer Jun Feng’s iPhone was seized last year during his arrest. The criminal claimed to have “forgotten” his password. Citing the All Writs Act, the government tried to persuade Apple to help them gain access to his phone.
Federal Magistrate Judge James Orenstein questioned the order’s legality and asked Apple if it had any objections. The company complained that it was being forced to hack into its own phones. “We’re being forced to become an agent of law enforcement,” added one Apple lawyer.
Even after Feng pled guilty, the feds continued to press Apple into giving them access to the phone. The device was running on iOS 7, an older system that does not encrypt its data automatically.
This Monday, Orenstein ruled in favor of Apple:
“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. I therefore deny the motion.”
The New York case is similar to the San Bernadino case. Apple executives hope that Monday’s ruling will have a “persuasive effect” moving forward. In the more recent case, the FBI has asked Apple to create a new iOS system that would allow a limitless amount of password attempts. In response, CEO Tim Cook released a public statement which read: adhering to the FBI’s demand would “undeniably create a backdoor” for all Apple phones. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”
The statement confirmed that Apple would not be complying with FBI orders. “Ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.” Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, and LinkedIn jumped up to support Apple’s decision.
Apple noted that providing access to the FBI would leave the door wide open for hackers.