Authorities in New York have taken the first step to appealing a judge’s ruling last month that denied a request for information held on an iPhone.
Apple successfully appealed the order on the grounds that it relied on an expanded interpretation of the All Writs Act (AWA) — the same act, passed in its current form more than 100 years ago, that the FBI is leaning on to order Apple to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone. Unlike the latter case, Apple could unlock the New York iPhone since it is an older model — an iPhone 5s — running its dated iOS 7 software, that doesn’t feature the same security setup as iOS 8, which Apple itself isn’t able to circumvent.
In a new filing made Monday, reported by NBC, the Justice Department Monday urged a federal judge to look at the case again:
In light of the debate that has recently come to surround this issue, it is worth briefly noting what this case is not about. Apple is not being asked to do anything it does not currently have the capability to do.
Apple may perform the passcode-bypass in its own lab, using its own technicians, just as it always has, without revealing to the government how it did so. Therefore, granting the application will not affect the technological security of any Apple iPhone nor hand the government a ‘master key.’
The DoJ also claimed that Apple’s software “continues to obstruct” its work.
Apple, which has complied with similar requests in the past, reiterated its concern with the “misuses” of the AWA in response to the new filing.
“Judge Orenstein ruled the FBI’s request would ‘thoroughly undermine fundamental principles of the Constitution’ and we agree. We share the Judge’s concern that misuse of the All Writs Act would start us down a slippery slope that threatens everyone’s safety and privacy,” it said in a statement.
Beyond warning of the precedent that software to access the San Bernardino iPhone would set if created, Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly lamented the route the FBI has taken with its request. In using the AWA, Cook argued, authorities have bypassed regular systems and trampled on individual rights. For a seminal case such as the San Bernardino iPhone request, which could shape other investigations and cases in the future, the Apple chief believes any ruling on the matter should come from Congress where “the people of America get a voice.”
While the New York case has different specifics to San Bernardino, Apple’s concern in both situations is that authorities are abusing the AWA, which sets a dangerous precedent for the future and may violate the fourth amendment safeguarding the right of the people to be secure.