georgejmclittle - Fotolia

New York judge blocks FBI iPhone warrant

Judge rules that Apple does not have to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of a suspected drug trafficker

The US District Court of Eastern New York has ruled in favour of Apple after the FBI applied to force the tech giant to unlock the iPhone of suspected drug trafficker Jun Feng.

The court had previously given the law enforcement agency a search warrant for Feng's iPhone 5s, which ran iOS 7.

But the device had been locked by a passcode and the FBI sought a court order to force Apple to unlock the phone under the All Writs Act (AWA) of 1789.

The AWA states that the US Supreme Court and all courts established by an Act of Congress "may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law".

According to Wikipedia, the Act was previously used in 1977 to enable the US government to install a monitoring device on a telephone operated by the New York Telephone Company.

In a court document posted on the New York Times' website, magistrate judge James Orenstein wrote: "In deciding this motion, I offer no opinion on whether, in the circumstances of this case, or others, the government's legitimate interest in ensuring that no door is too strong to resist lawful entry should prevail against the equally legitimate societal interests arrayed against it here."

The judge said the action the government was seeking was not available because Congress had already looked at legislation that would enable a law enforcement officer to obtain the passcode for a mobile phone, but had not adopted it.

Read more about government snooping

Last month, a US court ordered Apple to create custom firmware to enable the FBI to hack into an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook.

The code would enable the FBI to bypass or disable the auto-erase function and brute-force crack Farook's iPhone passcode to access and decrypt data stored on the device, but Apple said it would contest the order. Now Judge Orenstein's ruling appears to have strengthened Apple's defence against the FBI in the San Bernardino case.

Read more on Security policy and user awareness