US magistrate orders Apple to assist US government in unlocking shooter's phone

[JURIST] US Magistrate Sheri Pym of the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] on Tuesday ordered Apple [corporate website] to assist the US government in unlocking the iPhone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack on December 2. US authorities are in possession of an iPhone that formerly belonged to shooter Tashfeen Malik, but the FBI [official website] is unable to access the encrypted device. Tuesday's court order requires Apple to supply software to the FBI to disable a self-destruct feature [AP report] that erases phone data after 10 failed attempts to enter the phone's password. According to industry officials, Apple cannot dismantle or override the self-destruct feature and the general understanding is that Apple must write a new software program [WP report] to get around the feature. In other words, the government is ordering a private company to hack its own device [Reuters report]. Apple issued a statement [corporate customer letter] on Wednesday in opposition to the court's order. Apple maintains the FBI is "using an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789" which threatens data security. National Public Radio (NPR) analyzes [NPR report] the complexities of the disagreement between Apple and the US government.

The emergence of new technology, such as cellular phones and GPS tracking devices, has challenged modern courts to adopt appropriate standards for obtaining a search warrant and executing a constitutional search under the Fourth Amendment. In an article published earlier this month, JURIST guest columnist Veronica Reyes of St. John's University School of Law argues [JURIST op-ed] why warrantless searches of cell phones by the police may not be the best solution in protecting our Fourth Amendment rights.

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