Brooklyn judge: government can’t force Apple to provide access to an iPhone

A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York has denied the U.S. government's motion to force Apple to provide access into an iPhone used in a drug case, reports Reuters.

According to court documents released today, the government sought access to the phone in October, months before a judge in California ordered Apple to give the government access to the phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California attacks. Though the two cases aren’t related, the Brooklyn ruling is a a win for Apple in its battle with the FBI and Department of Justice, notes engadget. In his order magistrate judge James Orenstein states: "More specifically, 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.”

The judge concludes the ruling by explicitly laying out what many security experts have been talking about in the California case, where the FBI wants Apple to create software to help it crack an iPhone passcode. Namely, that this is absolutely not just about a “single device,” but instead whether the All Writs Act can be used to force compliance by private companies.

The All Writs Act, first passed by Congress in 1789 but passed in its current form in 1911, is a United States federal statute that authorizes United States federal courts to "issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” The U.S. government has revived the All Writs Act in cases against terrorists, notably to gain access to password protected mobile phones in domestic terrorism investigations.

A Justice Department spokesman said they were disappointed in Ornstein’s ruling and planned to appeal.