Judge rules FBI cannot force Apple to access locked iPhone in New York drug case

The case was similar to the one involving the data from the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shootings

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File photo: Apple Chief Tim Cook

A US judge has ruled that Apple cannot be forced to let the FBI access data on a locked iPhone.

Authorities investigating a drugs case in New York had asked for permission to hand over data on the iPhone to the FBI, in one of a number of ongoing cases in which the government has asked the company to unlock one of their devices.

The ruling supports the company's position in an ongoing row in California, where it is appealing legal demands to hack an iPhone belonging to a suspect in the San Bernardino shootings.

In making his ruling, US Magistrate Judge James Orenstein stated that the government had been unable to prove that the All Writs Act (AWA), which established that third parties were obliged to help the government in their investigations, applied to the case. 

Orenstein highlighted that the interpretation of the act, as put forward by the government in this case, would "cast doubt on the AWA’s constitutionality if adopted". 

In 1977, the AWA was used to order the New York telephone company to install a device to track the numbers dialed on a rotary phone, and the government was hoping to use the same legislation to force Apple to provide the data on their devices in this instance, as well as more than a dozen other similar cases. 

The tech giant argued that the request goes beyond the scope of the AWA, placing an undue burden on them to create a piece of software that would open a 'back door' into their devices. 

Given that the phone involved in this case was running a different version of iOS however, a senior Apple executive stated that this was an important precedent of legal opinion, but there was no binding ruling set in this case that could extend to the San Bernardino case.

Via RT