Apple Wins Court Battle Against FBI, and the Immorality of the Surveillance State is Exposed
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As privacy advocates urge the federal government to stop pressuring Apple to create a backdoor to its iPhone, a move that would essentially undermine the company’s own encryption software, the company has just won big in a federal court.
According to The Intercept, the ongoing battle between the tech company and the surveillance state could turn out bitter for the federal agency since a New York federal magistrate judge has just rejected one of the US government’s requests.
The criminal case involves an iPhone whose encrypted system has put its data out of the reach of the FBI. Apple was asked to aid investigators, but Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled against the government’s request.
The iPhone in question belongs to Jun Feng. Back in October, he pleaded guilty to drug charges. While the Drug Enforcement Administration seized Feng’s phone, it claimed it was unable to access its data. As both the DEA and the FBI tried to break the code, they also claimed they were unable to overcome Apple’s security measures.
As a result, a motion was filed, and the company was ordered to assist the investigation “under the authority of the All Writs Act,” a piece of legislation that is also being used by the FBI to force Apple to help investigators with the phone belonging to the San Bernardino killers.
Apple rejected the request on both cases. According to The Intercept, the government has requested the company to aid investigators in at least nine other occasions.
Using previous decisions pertaining to the interpretation of the All Writs Act, Judge Orenstein concluded that “imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against its will” was not justified by the law. The question raised by the government’s requests, Judge Orenstein added, is whether the All Writs Act gives a court the power to compel Apple to perform work that goes against its will. Apple, the private party in the matter, has no alleged involvement with the criminal activity involving Feng, therefore the federal government has no legal means to compel Apple to create a backdoor to its product.
To Glenn Greenwald, the privacy advocate and journalist involved with the dissemination of information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Orenstein’s ruling clarifies that the purpose of the request put forth by the FBI is not directly tied to the data evidence. Instead, Greenwald argues, FBI wants to broaden its authority, giving the federal government precedential authority to force other tech companies to undermine their own security systems in future investigations.
To privacy—and liberty—advocates, Apple’s decision makes sense.
In an article for the Foundation for Economic Education, Andrea Castillo explains that Apple has decided to put its consumers first. A move that goes against the attitude embraced by many corporations that “serve as quiet collaborators for the surveillance state to avoid retribution from the government.”
To Dr. Ron Paul, the former congressman and founder of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, the United States is not East Germany. Complying with the FBI’s order would represent a major threat to liberty.
If Greenwald is right, the recent court ruling could help privacy advocates in their fight against the federal government’s overreach. But is the over reliance on the courts the best move?
Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) have both claimed that the FBI’s request is unconstitutional. The recent court ruling may confirm the fact the FBI wanted more than a simple aid in their investigations, but the fact the requests were unconstitutional—and immoral—should be enough to give anyone enough reasons to say no to the surveillance state.