Waiting for a court ruling, a New York Judge rejected FBI request to unlock an iPhone

Pierluigi Paganini March 01, 2016

The federal magistrate Judge James Orenstein has ruled in favor of Apple, rejecting the FBI request to unlock an iPhone.

In the last weeks, we have followed the dispute between Apple and FBI regarding the possibility to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI required Apple to modify the iOS operating system running on the terrorist’s iPhone by creating a specific update to push into the device and that allows to disable security measures.

News of the day is the victory obtained by the Apple company in court against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the federal magistrate Judge James Orenstein has ruled in favor of Apple, rejecting the request to oblige the giant of Cupertino to help the feds in accessing data stored from a locked iPhone in another criminal case.

The ruling was issued on Monday by the Judge Orenstein for the Eastern District of New York as part of the criminal case against Jun Feng, a man who was pleading guilty in October last year to drug charges.

FBI against Apple judge ruling

Also in this case, the authorities seized the iPhone of the accused, but they were not able to access its content. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the FBI decided to request the judgment of the court to obtain an order requiring Apple to unlock the device.

The law enforcement agencies invoked the “the authority of the All Writs Act of 1789,” an old law that states US authorities could bypass the iPhone’s security measures.

Orenstein rejected the request and argued that the government can not misuse the All Writs Act to force private companies to help access data stored in a locked device.

“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.” wrote Orenstein.

“Moreover, I further conclude that even if the statute does apply, all three discretionary factors weigh against issuance of the requested writ, and that the Application should therefore be denied as a matter of discretion even if it is available as a matter of law”

The All Writs Act isn’t the unique law invoked in this case, another important law, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) forbids any interference by government.

Waiting for a final rule for the San Bernardino, Apple is going on in its personal fight in defense of the users’ privacy. It has been reported that the company is already working on a new iPhone that is impossible to hack, even by Apple experts.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – San Bernardino tragedy, iPhone encryption)

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