Effect, if any, of judge now declaring that Apple CAN'T be compelled by Gov't to help unlock iPhone

A magistrate judge in New York today ruled that U.S. Justice Department cannot force Apple to provide the FBI with access to a locked iPhone. The judge’s decision would seem to contradict an earlier magistrate judge’s order for Apple to assist the Government in unlocking an iPhone, although today’s ruling is based on a different line of reasoning (i.e. on the ‘All Writs Act’) (AFAIK).

“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,” said the judge.

What effect, if any, will today’s decision have on the underlying question of whether Apple (and other, similar private organizations) can be compelled to unlock, or help to unlock, encrypted devices? Does it guarantee a SCOTUS date? Or, is it just a tempest in a teapot unlikely to be of import?

It’s definitely ending up at the Supreme Court. Apple has the money to fight it all the way, and government really wants that magic back door key, so they’ll fight it all the way.

Oh, I definitely get that Apple wants to take this ‘all the way’.

But do the disparate decisions now guarantee SCOTUS involvement? Or, do disagreements at the magistrate court level not have the same implications as disagreements among appeals courts?

District level disagreements definitely do not have the same pursuasive impact on potential SCOTUS cert that appellate level decisions would.

Each case would have to work through their respective jurisdictions usually. And even then cert isn’t a sure thing.

I’m assuming the OP is referring to the San Bernandino case – if so, this ruling has no binding effect at all. District court orders have no precedential value at all (even in the same district). Different district judges in the same federal district may come to different conclusions of the law, and that’s just fine as long as the circuit court in the district or SCOTUS has not yet addressed the issue.

Another thing to note about this particular case: the judge who issued this order is a magistrate judge, and this ruling is not final until signed off by the Article III judge (assuming the parties did not consent to MJ), who may decide to accept, reject, or amend the magistrate judge’s ruling. So this is likely not the end of the case yet.

To explain this in a bit more detail:

Federal judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They serve lifetime terms, and can only be removed by impeachment. Federal judges sit as district (trial court level) judges, as circuit court (intermediate appellate) judges, or as Supreme Court justices.

But to assist in the workload, Congress has also authorized magistrate judges, who are appointed by a majority vote of the federal district judges in a given district. They serve eight year terms and can be reappointed. Magistrate judges typically handle initial appearances, bail hearings in criminal cases, and the like. In addition, parties in civil cases can consent to have their matter heard by a magistrate judge.

Absent that consent, since the Constitution places the judicial power of the United States in judges that are appointed by the President for life, any substantive decision made by a magistrate judge must be reviewed and approved by a lifetime appointment judge. Since the provisions of appointing federal judges appears in Article III of the Constitution, these are typically called Article III judges, as opposed to magistrate judges.

Obviously if the government really wants this, they can just pass a law to make it happen. I wonder why they haven’t done so yet.

The same reason they haven’t passed laws for a lot of things: a divided Congress.

Or Ex Post Facto laws are unconstitutional.

There’s no ex post facto problem here. Apple is being asked to do something prospectively, not being hemmed at for not doing it. There’s an ex post facto problem with regard to the San Bernadino shooters, but they’re dead and their heirs apparently haven’t objected to the government searching the phone.

It’s more likely that Congress isn’t going to pass a law requiring a private company to start doing uncompensated work for the government.

“The government” in this case refers to the law enforcement portion of the executive. “Pass a law” refers to Congress.

It’s pretty obvious all the ways, even on a good day, that those two groups won’t see eye to eye.

Is it possible we might soon have such a thing as “imminent intellectual domain”?

Eminent, not imminent.

Probably not any time soon. I think the critical difference is the doctrine of “eminent domain” dates from the era of Kings and the target was minor nobles and peasants.

“Eminent domain for intellectual property” would be getting underway in the era of corporations as almost supra-national legal entities and the target would be corporations. I don’t see them volunteering to be skewered by a government they mostly already control.

So it’s not imminent.

Most eminent scholars agree that imminent action on eminent domain of intellectual property is unlikely, yes.

So, I have another General Question closely associated with the court ruling being discussed here. I seem to remember this ruling touching upon this …

Why is the court involved at all?

It doesn’t matter what evidence is on that iPhone, not one shred of it can be brought into a court of law and used to prosecute the two suspects. The suspects have already elected to take non-judicial punishment and can never be convicted. They’ve accepted their sentences and going forward they will have a clean criminal record.

If the court has no interest in the evidence, then why are they involved in the collection of said evidence? The FBI is on a fishing expedition looking through someone’s private information to see if there’s a crime or not. I thought this was generally disallowed, the FBI needs probable cause of a crime to search for evidence to bring into a court of law. They may have probable cause, but there’s no one to prosecute anymore.

I remember back when the web was young, the encryption applications one could download always carried the disclaimer that it was a Federal felony to export the application to foreign countries. This was completely unenforceable and soon after the disclaimer was dropped. I really think this is a case of letting the cats out of the bag twenty years ago and now the government is trying to collect them back up, without understanding just how many cats there are now.

What makes you think there’s nobody else to prosecute? The phone may contain information about other militants the shooters were in touch with. That’s what the FBI is looking for. The court is involved because the FBI has requested a court order compelling Apple to help them out.

What makes you think there are more people involved, what’s the probably cause? I understand the FBI’s need to find out, but there’s a hard limit on how far they can go on their own authority. Past that they need a court’s permission to compel an innocent party’s co-operation.

Can the courts compel me to give the FBI all my private information just in case I may or may not have broke the law?

Of course not. But I’m pretty sure there’s no evidence that you killed 14 people last year. Beyond that, though, the FBI still needs to investigate the murders even if everyone involved is dead.

I agree 100% … it is the FBI’s job to investigate … my question is since everyone involved is dead, why are the courts involved? Isn’t it never the court’s job to investigate?