Apple’s encryption fight is far from over
Apple’s closely watched fight with the FBI over a San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone may not take place after all. But the bigger battle is far from over.
The company is opposing similar demands by the feds in at least a dozen other active cases. Court orders in those cases require Apple to help law enforcement bypass the security of suspects’ iPhones.
The dozen cases all boil down to this question: How far does the law go to compel a tech company to help the government access information stored on a locked gadget? The government cites a 1789 law used to fill in the gaps of other, more explicit laws: the All Writs Act.
Apple has already won one such court battle.
In a district court in Brooklyn, magistrate judge James Orenstein ruled a month ago that the Department of Justice could not use the All Writs Act to make Apple help it break into an iPhone belonging to a suspected drug dealer.
“The implications of the government’s position are so far-reaching — both in terms of what it would allow today and what it implies about Congressional intent in 1789 — as to produce impermissibly absurd results,” Orenstein said in his ruling.
Yet because of the case’s details, it’s unclear if the Brooklyn ruling will ultimately resolve the overarching debate.
The suspected Brooklyn drug dealer’s iPhone 5S was running iOS 7 — an older, less secure version of the iPhone operating system. As a result, the magistrate judge ruled that the Justice Department likely could get much, if not all, of the information it sought without ever entering the passcode — and without Apple’s help.
The DOJ appealed the ruling. In a sign that the Brooklyn case could become a bigger battle, high-powered Apple lawyer Theodore Boutros announced Friday that he would represent Apple in the case. He is serving as Apple’s attorney in San Bernardino.