Apple Asks Judge To Reject Government Order To Help Unlock iPhone


Apple Inc. has asked a federal judge to reject the U.S. Justice Department’s recent order to require it to help unlock an iPhone used in a New York drug case, according to Nasdaq. Apple is also trying to get the government to provide information about its phone hacking activities.

Apple has been fighting the Justice Department on the question of forcing the company to help investigators unlock iPhones. The government dropped one case last month after an unnamed third party provided a new way to unlock a phone. The FBI claimed the technique used in that case works only on limited iPhones.

Legal Wrangling Continues

Federal prosecutors want Apple to help retrieve data from a phone confiscated from a drug suspect who has already pled guilty. In February, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled the government lacks the authority to force Apple to help government agents retrieve data from phones. The government has appealed to a higher judge in this case, which is why Apple has filed a response.

Apple argued the government has failed to demonstrate the order is needed to execute the search warrant, and that it has not exhausted all avenues to recover the information. In its filing before U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie, Apple said the government must first provide proof that it has conducted an exhaustive search and that it is not able to obtain the data without Apple’s help.

An Apple attorney previously said Apple would try to force the government to answer questions on its phone hacking activities, including government agencies and companies it has consulted with. On Friday, Apple said there is no evidence that the government has consulted with any third parties or other government entities.

Justice Wants To Establish Authority

In continuing this effort, the Justice Department wants to secure one or more rulings to uphold its authority to force companies to assist in investigations by decrypting data or opening devices.

A government spokesperson said neither the law nor the facts have changed, only the company’s willingness to help with investigations.

The spokesperson said Apple agreed to assist the government in accessing the data, something it has done at least 70 times previously under similar circumstances. Apple only changed its position when the request for help was made public by the court, the government claims. Apple said it would take a few hours to open the phone since they have a mechanism that would allow it, the government spokesperson said.

The New York case marks the first open disagreement between the parties over the locked iPhone issue. In 2008 until last year, Apple helped the government open locked iPhones confiscated in investigations. When the New York case judge questioned the government’s authority to require the cooperation, Apple began to resist the orders.

The two sides are preparing to address the issue before the Supreme Court. It is not possible for either party to predict which iPhone case will reach the high court.

Also read: U.S. resumes battle to force Apple to unlock its phone in separate case

Information Sought In New York Case

The New York case involves a phone confiscated in 2014 from Jun Feng in a drug investigation. Feng pleaded guilty last year, but Apple and the government agreed the legal dispute over the phone has to be resolved.

Feng’s attorney declined to comment.

The government cites a 1789 law called the All Writs Act as its legal authority for compelling Apple and other companies to assist in such cases.

Apple argues that the government stretched the use of the All Writs Act past what Congress intended. The company argues the government should pass a new law if it wants such authority.

Prosecutors in the New York case say they want to see if there is evidence in the phone of additional crimes and claim such evidence could impact sentencing.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Lester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.