The FBI Cannot Use a 227-Year-Old-Law to Force Apple to Unlock its Phones, Judge Says
It turns out, the government cannot tell Apple to unlock an iPhone based a law from 1789. James Orenstein, the New York federal judge who delivered his 50-page ruling Monday said his siding with Apple came down to two major factors.
First, judge James Orenstein said that congress recently considered legislation granting the government the ability to ask for this type of assistance, but the bill was unsuccessful. This bill was an extension of CALEA, a 1994 law requiring telecommunications companies to provide certain information and assistance to law enforcement. The proposed bill would expand CALEA to include companies like Apple, but the bill died.
Additionally, Orenstein rejected the FBI’s request because it didn’t meet a precedent set by a 1977 case. This precedent requires a judge to consider three factors when deciding if he will issue an order under the All Writs Act. The factors are: “the closeness of Apple's relationship to the underlying criminal conduct and government investigation; the burden the requested order would impose on Apple; and the necessity of imposing such a burden on Apple.” Orenstein found the government’s case lacking in each of these factors.
The 1789 All Writs Act underlies many government requests for extracting data from tech companies, and broadly says that courts can require actions to comply with their orders when not covered by existing law. Judge Orenstein said the government was taking advantage of its authority by using the All Writs Act to force Apple to extract data from an iPhone seized in connection with a drug case.
Orenstein has been considering the case for many months, and released his decision the same week many organizations were planning to file briefs in support of either Apple or the FBI in the matching case in California.
Where the California case asks Apple to create a new software to aid FBI agents in hacking the phone of a terror suspect, the New York case was less burdensome in that it only asked Apple to extract all data from an older iPhone.
A senior Apple executive praised the judge’s decision in a call with reporters Monday, and noted that it is “precisely on point in the San Bernardino case.”
“This is not a binding precedent,” the executive said, on condition of anonymity. “But this is the first time that a court has looked specifically at this issue.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he’s willing to take the San Bernardino case all the way to the Supreme Court.
By Brionne Griffin, FEDagent
Posted in General News