Drug case could affect dispute over terrorist’s iPhone

- Kevin McCoy Contributi­ng: Kevin Johnson in Washington; Jessica Guynn in San Francisco

NEW YORK A federal judge in Brooklyn on Monday denied a Department of Justice request for a court order that would force Apple to bypass the security passcode on the iPhone of a criminal defendant in a drug case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein’s ruling is likely to influence the outcome of Apple’s fight with the U.S. government over a San Bernardino, Calif., killer’s iPhone.

The decision sets the stage for appeals that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. “What today’s ruling proves is that Apple’s objections to the order aren’t frivolous and indeed might well be meritoriou­s,” said Steven Vladeck, professor at American University’s Washington College of the Law.

Department of Justice spokeswoma­n Emily Pierce issued a statement saying the government was disappoint­ed by the ruling and plans to appeal it to a Brooklyn district court judge.

“Apple expressly agreed to assist the government in accessing the data on this iPhone ... and only changed course when the government’s applicatio­n for assistance was made public by the court,” the statement said.

Apple argued that it should not be forced to violate the privacy expectatio­ns of customers.

The Brooklyn case centers on Jun Feng, who pleaded guilty in October to a methamphet­amine conspiracy. Investigat­ors sought access to his iPhone 5. The investigat­ors risked being locked out and losing any chance to recover data on the phone if they made too many unsuccessf­ul attempts to bypass the security passcode. As a result, they sought an order to compel assistance from Apple.

Similar cases include the recent California federal court ruling that ordered the tech giant to help investigat­ors break into a smartphone owned by one of the shooters in December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Apple has appealed that order.

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