US Judge Likens Government iPhone Unlock Request To Forced Lethal Injection

The tensions between device makers like Apple and Google against law enforcement shows no signs of slowing down. As you may recall, the U.S. government is hell-bent on forcing Apple to unlock encrypted iPhone that are involved in criminal cases. Apple contends that the encryption that it provides on iPhones via the iOS operating system is meant to safeguard user data first and foremost, and that giving law enforcement the ability to snoop through private data sets a dangerous precedent.

Comments made by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein this week bolster Apple’s position, and throw cold water on the U.S. government’s wishes to steamroll tech companies. Judge Orenstein took the somewhat unorthodox tactic of comparing the act of forcing Apple to unlock an iPhone to forced lethal injection. The judge’s said that it was similar to a hypothetical situation of a drug company being forced to provide lethal injection drugs for use in an execution, even if it had objections to its products being used for such a purpose.

iPhone6s hand

"What you're asking [Apple] to do is do work for you,” added Judge Orenstein.

Saritha Komatireddy, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, didn’t take to kindly too the comparison, calling it “somewhat inflammatory.” Komatireddy also countered, rightfully pointing out that Apple has been complicit in the past in granting law enforcement the ability to unlock iPhones. “[Apple] has been doing this for years without any objection".

However, Apple lawyer Marc Zwillinger argued that circumstances have changed in recent years due to high-profile data breaches that have resulted in the loss of customer data. Couple that with leaked documents that clearly outlined the scope of the U.S. government spying efforts on its own citizens, Apple doesn’t want to give its customers the impression that it would easily succumb to fishing from the government.

FBI Director James Comey has been an outspoken opponent of full device encryption on iOS and Android smartphones, as he feels that it needlessly hampers criminal investigations. “The notion that we would market devices that would allow someone to place themselves beyond the law, troubles me a lot,” said Comey in an interview last October. “As a country, I don't know why we would want to put people beyond the law.”