A New York Federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Justice Department has no legal basis with which to compel Apple to grant law enforcement access to an iPhone.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein applied this ruling to a Brooklyn drug case, but it sets a greater precedent.
The FBI wants access to the iPhone used by one of the shooters involved in the San Bernadino shooting at the end of last year to learn whether or not the two shooters were a part of a larger terrorist network.
The FBI are unable to open the iPhone themselves because they believe it has software which will erase the phone’s contents if anyone but the owner tries to access it.
Apple is arguing that compelling them to create a so-called “backdoor” into the phone sets a dangerous precedent that could open a “Pandora’s Box” that will lead to the abuse of privacy rights.
The government was trying to apply a law from 1789 known as the All Writs Act, which they argued could be used to force Apple to open the iPhone.
Judge Orenstein found this to be a stretch however, and that the government was broadly interpreting that law “”to produce impermissibly absurd results.”
“Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come,” Orenstein wrote. “I conclude that it does not.”
An unnamed Apple executive said that this ruling bodes well for their fight for privacy in the San Bernadino case.
The Justice Department said they were “disappointed” in the decision and would be appealing to a higher court.