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Justice Department keeps pushing Apple to unlock iPhone in New York drug case

TechCrunch TechCrunch 8/04/2016 Romain Dillet

The fight between the government and Apple is not over. While the most controversial case is now over, the Department of Justice keeps pushing Apple on another case. The government still wants Apple to unlock an iPhone 5s that belonged to a meth drug dealer in Brooklyn.

In a letter today, the Department of Justice reiterated that it needed Apple’s help. This letter confirms that the government is appealing the judge’s decision as the judge had previously sided with Apple in this case.

While this case isn’t exactly similar to the San Bernardino case, the government is using the same argument, the All Writs Act. But the All Writs Act doesn’t work if there’s an alternative remedy. So the government has to justify that only Apple can unlock this iPhone.

The thing is, the iPhone 5s in the Eastern District of New York case runs iOS 7. You can buy a box online for something like $300 and unlock an iOS 7 device in minutes. iOS 8 and 9 are much more secure than iOS 7.

So the All Writs Act seems hard to defend in this case. According to an Apple attorney, the company’s asked to do the government’s work.

Moreover, the two cases are very different. First, this isn’t a terrorist attack. The case in New York has already been solved. The individual has confessed. So the FBI wants access to this phone’s data even though it doesn’t need it for this specific case.

Second, it’s worth reiterating that this has never been about just one phone. The San Bernardino case was filed publicly and made the front page of all American publications. The Department of Justice said again and again that they were asking for a favor just for this one time. And yet, here we are again, with another phone in another case.

But this isn’t Apple’s job to get access to this data on this iPhone 5s. An Apple attorney confirmed that the company will file a response brief on Thursday. In this brief, you can expect the company to raise some issues regarding this case. Why does the government need Apple’s help? Who are you talking to? What steps are you taking to try and access the data on this phone?

Also worth noting, Apple’s attorney said that the company still doesn’t know anything about the secret San Bernardino method used by the FBI. The company won’t sue the government to get access to the hack. Instead, you can expect software updates and new devices with increased security in the coming years.

With this case, Apple’s and the governemnt’s positions are starting to look like business as usual. It’s a whack-a-mole game — the government wants to try and find an opening to set a precedent, while Apple is trying its best to avoid getting hit by the government.

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