Although this case is unrelated to the ongoing controversy involving the FBI’s demand to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist, a federal judge in New York has ruled in favour of Apple on Monday regarding another, similar case. The US District Court Judge James Orenstein has denied a government request for information on an iPhone involved in a crime. The judge says that it cannot allow an archaic law to force companies to comply with requests for user information.
Both the requests by the US government rely on the interpretation of the 1789 All Writs Act. According to the law, the Supreme Court and all the courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in case there is a legal requirement and no other alternative is available.
The New York case is about the unlocking of the iPhone of a drug dealer. According to the judge, Apple cannot be compelled to help get information to unlock an iPhone. Although admitting that competing interests need to be balanced, such decisions (forcing companies to release user information) should be taken by the Congress rather than the courts.
The judge wrote, “That debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive. It would betray our constitutional heritage and our people’s claim to democratic governance for a judge to pretend that our Founders already had that debate, and ended it, in 1789.”
That’s quite progressive. And it makes perfect sense. The world is changing all the time and people, no matter how wise they were, a few centuries ago, couldn’t have imagined the sort of world we live in today.
But I still feel that when it comes to the safety of people, the law enforcement agencies should be able to force companies to reveal user information. This is a short-term solution of course. The long-term solution would be to have a political debate and also a philosophical debate on the issue.