Federal New York Judge Rules Apple Does Not Have to Help FBI

On February 29, 2016, Federal Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled that the FBI cannot force Apple to provide it with a way to access locked iPhone data.  Judge Orenstein issued a fifty-page ruling finding that the question at issue is not whether Apple can be forced to unlock a specific device but, “is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come,” and the Judge determined it did not.  Judge Orenstein pointed out that using a law written in 1789, the All Writs Act, to compel tech companies to create back doors into smart phones, or any other piece of tech, in order to obtain secure data is inappropriate given that the law was written at a time when the it was impossible to predict a world where a small rectangular phone could be used to schedule meetings, send text messages, and record video.

Judge Orenstein went on to say that the current U.S. Congress needs to act by passing new legislation, “[t]he debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive.”  Judge Orenstein did agree with Apple’s contention that the government was seeking to put too high of a burden on Apple by trying to force Apple to “bypass [ ] a security measure Apple affirmatively markets to its customers.”

The ruling, while a boost to Apple’s current fight with the government over whether it has to create a backdoor into their operating systems, but it is not binding on the Courts in California who are now considering the San Bernardino case.  So, for the time, Apple has obtained a victory, but the war being waged over the security of smart phones and computers will continue to move forward and will likely take action from the Supreme Court or the U.S. Congress.

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