A New York judge has ruled that Apple cannot be forced by U.S. federal investigators to unlock an iPhone belonging to the suspect in a drug trafficking case.
Judge James Orenstein delivered his ruling at a New York magistrates court yesterday. His verdict, however, is not legally binding in the case of the terrorist involved in last year’s San Bernardino shootings.
The latter has become the centre of an increasingly febrile standoff between Apple and the FBI. Apple has consistently said that it does not have the software yo break a user’s passcode and that it is unwilling to develop such technology for the FBI.
The FBI has accused Apple of using the case as a marketing tool, saying they are impeding a terrorist investigation.
In the New York case, Judge Orenstein said that the FBI could not use the All Writs Act (AWA), first passed in the late 1700s, to access a suspect’s iPhone. This is significant as the FBI is aiming to use the same law to force Apple to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
“...the established rules for interpreting a statute's text constrain me to reject the government's interpretation that the AWA empowers a court to grant any relief not outright prohibited by law."
Apple insists it does not have the San Bernardino suspect’s data and would have to break the related iPhone’s passcode to access it. Apple has in the past given law enforcement data from its iCloud servers, which is has access to and does not have to breach encryption in order to get it.
The San Bernardino case is set to be considered by a judge on March 22nd. Apple has also begun giving evidence to the U.S. Congress about encryption.