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FBI Can’t Compel Apple To Unlock iPhone, Rules NY Judge

In another iPhone unlocking case in Brooklyn, New York -- one that is not related to the one in San Bernardino, California -- a judge ruled against the FBI, saying it can’t compel Apple to unlock the iPhone using the All Writs Act.

The FBI, as well as other law enforcement agencies from around the country, have been trying to get Apple to unlock its encrypted iPhones. The FBI made public the San Bernardino case against Apple because it wanted it to set a precedent that then would allow law enforcement to compel Apple to unlock its iPhones every time they ask.

That case is still in progress, but it looks like a New York judge may have already set a precedent, just not the one FBI would’ve liked. Judge James Orenstein ruled in a drug-related case that the more than two-century-old All Writs Act (AWA), written about 90 years before the lightbulb was invented, did not permit the government to do things that weren’t already prohibited in the law.

“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,” said Judge Orenstein. “More specifically, the established rules for interpreting a statute's text constrain me to reject the government's interpretation that the AWA empowers a court to grant any relief not outright prohibited by law,” he added.

The judge also believes that compelling Apple to unlock the iPhone would indeed put too much burden on the company, something Apple has argued in the San Bernardino case as well. The company would have to create new software that would be used to update a specific iPhone or specific iPhones, and that software would also need to be highly secured so that hackers from all over the world can’t steal it once they know such software exists.

If Apple was compelled to do this, it could also hurt its business, as the company promotes its iPhones as highly secure devices. The government is arguing that Apple should now make them less secure.

"The assistance the government seeks here — bypassing a security measure that Apple affirmatively markets to its customers — is not something that Apple would normally do in the conduct of its own business and is, at least now, plainly offensive to it," Orenstein wrote.

This ruling comes right before Apple’s General Counsel, Bruce Sewell, has to appear in a Congressional hearing on encryption later today. This Court win should help Apple's arguments that the government can’t compel it to unlock its strongly secured devices.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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  • ohim
    Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ? I mean, i understand their position not to give the backdoor to all iphones on the market but i do believe that they have internal testing rings that can be used to unlock devices used in terrorist attacks.

    Don`t give the tools to FBI.. but do unlock it yourself inside the company and then hand over the information to FBI ...problem solved both ways ... but for now Apple is playing their cards just to get free publicity from this "look not even the FBI can crack down an Apple device".
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    wait a minute..... i thought the gov was only asking apple for a one time never to be repeated hack into one iphone?? i am pretty sure this is not the iphone we have been hearing so much about. you mean they want more iphones hacked despite claiming it is just one?? i'm so confused... i KNOW the gov would never lie to me yet this seems kind of contradictory.

    please oh please merciful and enlightened government, please help me to understand how one and only one time seems to be more than one time.
    Reply
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ?

    Not willing to set a precedent (factual or legal), for one. Unlock this one phone and the FBI will spring up with dozens more.
    Reply
  • ohim
    Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ?

    Not willing to set a precedent (factual or legal), for one. Unlock this one phone and the FBI will spring up with dozens more.
    The precedent is not to unlock any phone ... but in serious cases like this one anyone with a brain attached to his neck will find it normal to be done.

    I understand that the FBI would try to come to Apple to unlock random phones etc and this might be in Apple`s best interest not to do it, but when the device is used by people who can make a lot of damage or hurt lots of other people believe me that you want Apple to unlock that phone.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ? I mean, i understand their position not to give the backdoor to all iphones on the market but i do believe that they have internal testing rings that can be used to unlock devices used in terrorist attacks.

    Don`t give the tools to FBI.. but do unlock it yourself inside the company and then hand over the information to FBI ...problem solved both ways ... but for now Apple is playing their cards just to get free publicity from this "look not even the FBI can crack down an Apple device".

    yup you are the only one.

    what you forget is the nsa already mines the web and phones worldwide "to keep track of terrorists". they already log phone calls so that when a phone number turns up as a bad guy they can quickly put together who the have been talking to. is this not exactly what they claim to want from the iphone in CA?

    wake up a smell the coffee, this has nothing to do with the single case. it is simply a way to get the idea going and then slam apple with thousands of requests to do this over and over. they made more than a dozen requests for this same thing withing 24 hours of filing for the CA case. plus there are literally thousands of cases by various state agencies and local ones as well that want this same thing.

    don't kid yourself that this is a one of thing. we have already seen how the nsa has misused the data they have for political reasons and continue to. the fbi wants them some cool secret data as well they can use for their political purposes as well. that's all this is about.

    so yah you're the only one who does not get what really is going on here.
    Reply
  • JackNaylorPE
    Apple has been coopering for years and doing "one of's" for years. What FBI is asking for is:

    "The FBI wants Apple to write software that would give it unlimited attempts at the PIN with a computer program, but Apple's answer is a hard no. "

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/25/468158520/why-apple-says-it-wont-help-unlock-that-iphone-in-5-key-quotes
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    i do like apples idea of encrypting the icloud data as well. this is something they have been handing over for years now. would make it so literally nothing about a customer's data is accessible to anyone other than the user. i'd post the feature when it comes out with a pic of cook with his middle finger in the air and caption of "for you fbi"
    Reply
  • ohim
    17590703 said:
    Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ? I mean, i understand their position not to give the backdoor to all iphones on the market but i do believe that they have internal testing rings that can be used to unlock devices used in terrorist attacks.

    Don`t give the tools to FBI.. but do unlock it yourself inside the company and then hand over the information to FBI ...problem solved both ways ... but for now Apple is playing their cards just to get free publicity from this "look not even the FBI can crack down an Apple device".

    yup you are the only one.

    what you forget is the nsa already mines the web and phones worldwide "to keep track of terrorists". they already log phone calls so that when a phone number turns up as a bad guy they can quickly put together who the have been talking to. is this not exactly what they claim to want from the iphone in CA?

    wake up a smell the coffee, this has nothing to do with the single case. it is simply a way to get the idea going and then slam apple with thousands of requests to do this over and over. they made more than a dozen requests for this same thing withing 24 hours of filing for the CA case. plus there are literally thousands of cases by various state agencies and local ones as well that want this same thing.

    don't kid yourself that this is a one of thing. we have already seen how the nsa has misused the data they have for political reasons and continue to. the fbi wants them some cool secret data as well they can use for their political purposes as well. that's all this is about.

    so yah you're the only one who does not get what really is going on here.
    I understand the privacy concerns and i`m not supporting NSA or other gov institution anyway. Ofc there will not be only 1 time request for an unlock, but like in this case Apple should unlock that phone, what FBI is actually asking is a tool to unlock any iPhone when they want, and on this matter i`m all with Apple. But having a company put to unlock a certain device if that device was used in a scenario like this without any reason of a doubt then i believe that be it Apple or any other phone company should comply and unlock that device.

    Just imagine yourself having your family butchered by some idiots and their phone could have important information ... would you care about Apple`s image as a company that doesn`t unlock anything under any circumstance or you would want that info being taken out of that device ?

    I`m not in favour of governments to be able to spy anyone but i don`t give a crap about any corporation`s image either.

    I repeat, the unlocking should be done only in house of the company, and only in cases that are very serious, probably needing a warrant to be done.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    17590755 said:
    i do like apples idea of encrypting the icloud data as well. this is something they have been handing over for years now. would make it so literally nothing about a customer's data is accessible to anyone other than the user. i'd post the feature when it comes out with a pic of cook with his middle finger in the air and caption of "for you fbi"

    You have to remember it took hackers getting personal pictures of celebrities and normal people for Apple to actually consider encrypting iCloud data.

    That said I agree with Apples stance on creating a universal back door, even if I am not a fan of their company or their practices, but if there is a specific phone needing unlocking and there is a warrant then they should just do it. Same with MS or Google.
    Reply
  • nekatreven
    ohim Am i the only one that doesn`t understand why Apple doesn`t want to unlock this one phone inside their company ?

    To which "one phone" are you referring? The San Bernardino one, this one, or the hundreds of others that law enforcement has already said they want unlocked?

    "Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case," the company said in a statement Monday.
    - http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-apple-ceo-tim-cook-fbi-iphone-20160222-story.html

    It was never just one phone.

    On top of that Apple could be hacked and the magical keys could get it. You want to think (we all do) that something that sensitive would never get taken, but you only have to consider the OPM hack to see that important and supposedly top secret things are not immune to these threats just because of said importance; it takes an insane amount of due diligence to keep such things safe. Not to mention the prospect of North Korea paying off high-level Apple people (who are probably good normal folks; but money talks) with millions of dollars.

    Back then, the Obama administration estimated that security clearance data—including fingerprints, Social Security numbers, addresses, employment history, and financial records—of 4 million people was exposed. In July, the administration revised that estimate to 21.5 million after a second intrusion was detected. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned soon after.

    I made an effort to keep some civility here... but if none of that sways you you're a fool and you deserve what we get.
    Reply