US pushes Apple for access to iPhones in criminal cases
NEW YORK CITY –– The United States Department of Justice has said it will pursue its request for Apple to help unlock an iPhone that is part of a drugs case in New York.
A letter filed to a local court said the government “continues to require Apple’s assistance”.
In Boston, unsealed court papers show a judge ordered Apple to assist authorities in another criminal case.
The judge ruled it was “reasonable” to ask Apple to extract data from the device.
United States Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler made the Boston order in February, but it was only unsealed on Friday.
In a separate case last month, the FBI dropped a court order demanding Apple help investigators unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook.
The FBI had said it was able to gain access to the device independently. This method is said only work on certain older models of the iPhone.
The device in the Boston case – owned by alleged gang member Desmond Crawford – is a later-model iPhone.
In February, a judge ruled that Apple could not be forced to give access to the phone in the New York case.
The judge denied a motion by the Justice Department -– a decision which was followed by a government appeal.
Jun Feng, who owned the iPhone, pleaded guilty to taking part in a methamphetamine distribution conspiracy last year.
Authorities have said they still wish to unlock the device, however, as part of an ongoing investigation into the conspiracy.
In San Bernardino, the FBI wanted Apple to create new software to allow them to bypass security measures on Syed Farook’s iPhone. Apple’s defence – one that looked solid, though never tested – was that it was not right to be forced by the courts to create something new, and that it would infringe on the firm’s right to free speech.
So in New York, in a case involving an individual who has pleaded guilty to a drugs-related charge, the FBI is instead asking Apple to just grab the data off the phone.
In this case, the iPhone is a 5S running iOS7. That’s significant – the San Bernardino shooter had iOS8. iOS7, while still encrypting data on the device, is less secure.
That said, added security measures built into the hardware on the drug dealer’s 5S – more up-to-date than Farook’s 5C – could be the reason why the FBI’s technique doesn’t work here.
But Apple isn’t really buying that.
In a conference call to reporters which it requested we didn’t quote directly, Apple argued that the FBI complained all along it absolutely needed Apple’s help in San Bernardino, until it, well, didn’t.
So the company is questioning why the FBI can’t access this iPhone itself, and reiterated its belief that investigators are simply trying to set a precedent in order to make accessing locked iPhones easier in the future.