NY Judge Rules Government Can't Force Apple to Unlock iPhones

The national debate about security and privacy spurred by the FBI’s attempt to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone has taken another turn. A judge in Brooklyn ruled Monday that the government cannot compel Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone.

The controversy began a few weeks ago when a court in California ruled that Apple was required to build software that would allow the FBI to bypass a security measure on the iPhone, allowing access into the cellphone that belonged to one of the terrorists who committed the attack in San Bernardino.

Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an open letter questioning the court’s decision. He argued it could eventually compromise the security of all Apple users should such technology get into the wrong hands and that this decision would set a dangerous precedent for government authority in matters of privacy.

The debate Mr. Cook’s letter sparked turned into a national conversation about the balance between privacy and security in the U.S., and the lack of laws regarding this balance in the digital age.

Although the NY case regards a drug dealer’s iPhone and not a terrorist’s, the ruling by the judge in Brooklyn will most likely help Apple with its case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled that the 227-year-old All Writs Act signed by George Washington in 1789, which serves as the basis for the government’s case, did not provide sufficient authority for the government to order Apple to build a backdoor into the iPhone. His interpretation of this law could largely determine the judge’s decision in California.

This case has caused the country to confront some very big questions. On the one hand, it seems like common sense that every person deserves to keep his or her most intimate details private. On the other hand, at a time when mass shootings are commonplace, is that privacy worth our safety? Additionally, Apple’s argument is that letting the FBI into this particular phone would not only encroach on a terrorist’s privacy, but would allow the government access to all iPhones.

Ideally, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice privacy for safety. The case between Apple and the FBI seems to be the bellwether for determining what, legally, takes precedence.

Aside from the ongoing court case, this debate will also take place in the halls of Congress. A Congressional hearing has been organized for March 1 at which Apple’s senior vice president and general counsel Bruce Sewell and FBI Director James Comey will offer testimony.

The hearing has been termed “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy,” and was called to educate legislators on the best way to address the concerns of law enforcement while also protecting the privacy and security of everyday people.

The need for data security has never been greater; data breaches have become all too common, the most recent being the attack on 63,000 people at the University of Central Florida. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a data breach, the attorneys at Morgan & Morgan would like to hear from you. You may be entitled to compensation for your stolen information, so fill out a case evaluation form for a free consultation to find out if you have a case.

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