The U.S. Justice Department cannot force Apple to give the FBI access to a locked iPhone’s data in a routine Brooklyn drug case, a U.S. magistrate judge ruled Monday.
Judge James Orenstein’s written decision gives support to the company’s position in its fight against a California judge’s order that it create specialized software to help the FBI hack into an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino terrorism investigation. Apple’s filing to oppose the order by Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in California is due by Friday.
The San Bernardino County-owned iPhone 5C was used by Syed Farook, who was a health inspector. He and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people during a Dec. 2 attack that was at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group.
Apple’s opposition to the government’s tactics has evoked a national debate over digital privacy rights and national security.
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Orenstein concluded that Apple is not obligated to assist government investigators against its will and noted that Congress has not adopted legislation that would achieve the result sought by the government.
“How best to balance those interests is a matter of critical importance to our society, and the need for an answer becomes more pressing daily, as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther past the boundaries of what seemed possible even a few decades ago,” Orenstein wrote. “But that debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive.”
A Justice Department spokesman said they were disappointed in the ruling and planned to appeal in the coming days. Apple and their attorneys said they were reading opinion and will comment later.