Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) won a legal case against the United States government after a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that he does not have the authority to compel the tech giant to unlock a drug dealer’s iPhone.
In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the Eastern District of New York said the government’s demands on Apple are excessive and impractical, and the tech giant doesn’t have to help prosecutors bypass the security features of the iPhone.
“It would be absurd to posit that the authority the government sought was anything other than obnoxious to the law,” according to Judge Orenstein.
The judge explained that his ruling favoring Apple was not a decision on “whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come. For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government’s motion is denied.”
The defendant in the Brooklyn cases already pleaded guilty, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to access his iPhone based on its belief that it may discover relevant evidence in an active criminal investigation.
Apple assisted the government in its investigations by unlocking at least 70 iPhones. In October, the tech giant decided to stop cooperating and filed a petition asking the court to deny the government demand to unlock at least 12 devices.
The tech giant argued that the government’s order forcing it to unlock and extract data from the iPhones could threaten customers trust to the company and substantially damaging the Apple brand.
DOJ disappointed with the ruling
The DOJ expressed its disappointment with the ruling of the Magistrate and indicated its plan to ask the District Judge to review the issue in the coming days.
“As our prior court filings make clear, Apple expressly agreed to assist the government in accessing the data on this iPhone — as it had many times before in similar circumstances — and only changed course when the government’s application for assistance was made public by the court,” according to the DOJ.
The agency reiterated that the iPhone in the Brooklyn case “may contain evidence that will assist us in an active criminal investigation.” The DOJ also stated that it will continue to use the judicial system to obtain evidence.
Apple says the judge ruling was a “masterly piece of analysis”
During a conference call with reporters, a senior executive at Apple said Judge Orenstein “completely sides” with the tech giant in the Brooklyn case, which he considers an “on point” for the San Bernardino case.
The senior executive described Judge Orenstein’s ruling as “thoughtful, cogent and masterly piece of analysis. He noted that the judge ruled against the government’s use of All Writs Act—the primary legal basis of the government in trying to compel Apple to help unlock the iPhones.
According to the Apple senior executive, the Brooklyn case is “undoubtedly” an important precedent because it is the “first time that a court has looked specifically at this issue” and ruled in favor of the tech giant. He also noted that opinion of the judge that the Congress should decide on the matter.
Apple opposed the order issued by Judge Sheri Pym of the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles, which required the tech giant to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI in its investigation in the San Bernardino case.
Apple CEO Tim Cook explained that unlocking the iPhone in the San Bernardino case is “bad for America” because could set a legal precedent that could put hundreds of millions of customers at risk and “trample” civil liberties. Cook said the case was not just about privacy, but also public safety.