iPhone 6

Apple and the FBI are at odds over creating software to unlock an iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA)

Joel Rubin
February 29, 2016

Apple won the latest round in its battle with the U.S. government over accessing iPhones in criminal investigations on Monday when a federal judge said he would not force the technology company to assist in a drug probe.

In a New York case that mirrors the legal wrangling unfolding over the FBI investigation into last year’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein denied a request from federal prosecutors that he make Apple unlock a drug dealer’s iPhone.

Orenstein, in denying the request made in New York’s Eastern District, rejected the same legal arguments that prosecutors made in the San Bernardino case when they sought an order compelling Apple to help FBI agents access an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two assailants in the Dec. 2 terror attack at the Inland Regional Center.

In both cases, the thrust of the government’s argument was that the authority to force Apple’s hand rests in the All Writs Act, a centuries-old law that allows judges to issue orders if other judicial avenues are unavailable.

“After reviewing the facts in the record and the parties’ arguments, I conclude that none of those factors justifies imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against its will,” Orenstein wrote.

Department of Justice officials expressed disappointment, saying they will ask a judge in a superior post to Orenstein to review his ruling in coming days.

“This phone may contain evidence that will assist us in an active criminal investigation and we will continue to use the judicial system in our attempt to obtain it,” the department said in a statement.

While U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym in Riverside is not bound to follow Orenstein’s ruling when she makes a decision on Farook’s iPhone, Apple executives emphasized that it marked the first time a judge had weighed in on some of the same contentious legal questions.

To read expanded article, click here.