Apple won an important court battle yesterday, just not the one you’re probably thinking of.
Late yesterday a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York ruled that the FBI cannot force Apple to unlock an iPhone used by a suspected drug dealer. In this case, as in the San Bernardino shootings, authorities invoked the All Writs Act of 1789—an antiquated general purpose law allowing courts to mandate third-party assistance in executing a prior court order. But the judge has roundly rejected the interpretation of the All Writs Act as it applies to this case.
The ruling sets an important precedent that will surely be cited in regards to San Bernardino; it’s important to note, however, that this decision is not legally binding when it comes to any other court proceedings.
The decision comes a mere three days before Apple files amicus briefs for its legal battle in California. And today Apple’s top legal counsel Bruce Sewell (seen in the photo above) will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill—seeking public debate on three key issues:
- “Do we want to put a limit on the technology that protects our data, and therefore our privacy and our safety, in the face of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks?”
- “Should the FBI be allowed to stop Apple, or any company, from offering the American people the safest and most secure product it can make?”
- “Should the FBI have the right to compel a company to produce a product it doesn’t already make, to the FBI’s exact specifications and for the FBI’s use?”
In his ruling yesterday the Brooklyn magistrate judge also acknowledged the need for a public discussion of these issues:
It is also clear that the government has made the considered decision that it is better off securing such crypto-legislative authority from the courts (in proceedings that had always been … shielded from public scrutiny) rather than taking the chance that open legislative debate might produce a result less to its liking.