Apple Asks Court to Throw out Order to Unlock iPhone

On Thursday, the biggest names in the technology industry all rallied behind Apple Inc. when the company fired a legal salvo during its battle with the federal government over a court order that instructs it to aid investigators in unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone. The case is said to be a milestone for defining the boundaries between security and privacy in an increasingly technological world. In a court filing, Apple presented the argument that the issued order was ‘unprecedented’ and also added that there was no support in the law for such matters. Initially, other technology companies were wary, but they have decided to move from the sidelines and stand behind Apple.

Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. are all expected to make legal filings in support of Apple, which will raise the stakes in this standoff. US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym had issued the order on February 16th that the iPhone maker assist investigators in bypassing the security passcode function of the iPhone that belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife, opened fire in San Bernardino, California and killed 14 people in December. Apple asked the judge to reverse her order.

The case could reach the Supreme Court and it gives rise to important questions about individual rights, free speech and the powers of law enforcement. Apple argued in its filing that the case is not just restricted to Mr. Farook’s phone. The company said that the government wants it to make software that could be used for unlocking other phones in the future. The filing said that the case didn’t pertain to just one isolated iPhone. It added that no court could authorize what the government seeks as such sweeping and unlimited use of the judicial process is not allowed by any law and is also forbidden by the Constitution.

Only hours after James Comey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director, told the House Committee that the hardest question he had seen in the government was striking the right balance on encryption, Apple filed its motion. A conciliatory tone was used by Mr. Comey in his testimony and he said that he was a supporter of privacy and encryption. He didn’t direct any criticism towards Apple or Silicon Valley. He also denied claims that the move against Apple was aimed at setting a legal precedent, but he said that this could be the outcome.

It has been argued by the Justice Department that their request only pertains to Mr. Farook’s phone and unlocking it could help them in preventing future terrorist attacks. There are 13 other cases in different parts of the country that involve the government seeking a court order to get Apple to unlock iPhones for extracting data. A New York judge will soon be ruling on one of these cases, which is a dispute over an iPhone that was seized in a drug case. When Mr. Comey appeared later in the day for the second hair, a Florida Republican, Rep. David Jolly told him that the company was putting lives at risk. 

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