A New York federal judge issued an opinion that directly opposes a California counterpart’s ruling that Apple doesn’t have to help the government unlock a drug dealer’s iPhone. The decision undermines prosecutors’ arguments that accessing the suspected San Bernardino shooter’s phone is an isolated request.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein roundly rejected the government’s contention that the court could require Apple to help the government break into confessed drug dealer Jun Feng’s iPhone 5S.

“We should expect to see more decisions from more courts and a growing disparity in terms of the outcome and the reasoning in support of the outcome,” Ballard Spahr LLP partner and former federal cybercrime prosecutor Edward McAndrew said.

Until there’s a more sweeping ruling from the appellate courts, which could take years, companies will have to live with inconsistent rulings and a debate over the proper balance between privacy and security.

“An interesting component of all of this is that a bedrock principle of digital security is encryption, and regulators will be the first to tell companies that they must encrypt in order to take reasonable steps to secure data, and if they don’t, they will sue you,” McAndrew said. “So on the one hand, companies are being told by regulators that encrypting is increasingly important, and on the other hand, law enforcement agencies are telling companies that they have to help them decrypt devices.”

Related Practice