N.Y. judge backs Apple in encryption fight with government

Mon Feb 29, 2016 9:32pm EST
 
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By Julia Harte, Julia Edwards and Julia Love

(Reuters) - The U.S. government cannot force Apple Inc (AAPL.O: Quote) to unlock an iPhone in a New York drug case, a federal judge in Brooklyn said on Monday, a ruling that bolsters the company's arguments in its landmark legal showdown with the Justice Department over encryption and privacy.

The government sought access to the phone in the Brooklyn case in October, months before a judge in California ordered Apple to take special measures to give the government access to the phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, attacks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn ruled that he did not have the legal authority to order Apple to disable the security of an iPhone that was seized during a drug investigation.

His ruling echoed many of the arguments that Apple has made in the San Bernardino case, particularly his finding that a 1789 law called the All Writs Act cannot be used to force Apple to open the phone. Orenstein also found that Apple was largely exempt from complying with such requests by a 1994 law that updated wiretapping laws.

A senior Apple executive, who spoke on condition he not be named, said during a call with reporters that Orenstein's decision would bode well for the company in the San Bernardino case, which has touched off a fierce national debate about the balance between fighting crime and preserving privacy in the digital age.

He said that the government's demands in the San Bernardino case, which include compelling Apple to alter its operating system, were even more far-reaching than in the NY case.

Although U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym, the judge in the San Bernardino case, will not be bound by Orenstein's decision, the senior Apple executive said it will likely be influential. In both cases, the government relies on the All Writs Act, a broad 1789 law which enables judges to require actions necessary to enforce their own orders.

The Justice Department is "disappointed" in Orenstein's ruling and plans to ask a higher judge within the same federal district to review the matter in coming days, a department representative said.   Continued...

 
3D printed Apple logo are seen in front of a displayed cyber code in this illustration taken February 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration