Apple has been arguing with the government lately about whether or not it should be forced to help the FBI access an iPhone 5c that belonged to an attacker in the San Bernardino shooter. That’s not the only legal battle that Apple is currently involved in, though, and today a judge handed down a ruling that could have some influence in the San Bernardino case.
Magistrate Judge James Orenstein today denied the government’s request that Apple help it access an iPhone that belonged to a New York drug smuggler. The government had argued that the All Writs Act should compel Apple to help unlock the iPhone in the NY case. However, Orenstein said the government’s argument does not meet the thresholds needed for the All Writs Act to be used. The judge went so far as to say that the government’s interpretation of the All Writs Act was so expansive that, if adopted, it could be considered unconstitutional.
“As set forth below, I conclude that in the circumstances of this case, the government’s application does not fully satisfy the statute’s threshold requirements: although the government easily satisfies the statute’s first two elements, the extraordinary relief it seeks cannot be considered “agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” In arguing to the contrary, the government posits a reading of the latter phrase so expansive – and in particular, in such tension with the doctrine of separation of powers – as to cast doubt on the AWA’s constitutionality if adopted.”
While this NY case is a different than the one involving the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, the government is using the same All Writs Act in its argument against Apple in the California case. The government is actually asking for more in that California case, saying that Apple should create entirely new software to bypass the setting that will erase the iPhone after too many failed attempts. And while Apple’s win in NY is no guarantee of a win in the California case, it does give Apple some ammunition in that battle.
Apple and the Department of Justice are scheduled to meet in court over the San Bernardino iPhone on March 22. Until then, you can read Judge Orenstein’s full decision right here.