The Justice Department said Friday it will continue efforts to force Apple to help break into an iPhone involved in a Brooklyn drug case, reigniting a high-stakes legal battle pitting privacy rights against law enforcement.
The announcement, in a brief filing in Brooklyn federal court, comes two weeks after the government dropped a similar legal effort to force Apple to help break into an iPhone used by the gunman in the San Bernardino terror attacks.
The government halted its legal case over the phone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook because a private party figured out a way to break into his iPhone 5c without Apple’s help, but the FBI has said it wouldn’t work on other models.
“The government’s application is not moot and the government continues to require Apple’s assistance in accessing the data,” prosecutors said in the letter filed with Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie, who had asked for an update.
The Brooklyn case involves an iPhone belonging to Jun Feng, who has pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say they want to look inside his encrypted iPhone 5S to try to identify other conspirators.
Brooklyn U.S. Magistrate James Orenstein ruled in February that the 227-year-old All Writs Act, which gives the government authority to get assistance in executing search warrants, did not give it power to force Apple to unravel its privacy protections.
He said Congress needed to act to set the proper balance between security and privacy in modern technology, and the government has appealed his ruling to Brodie.
Legal experts have said Apple’s technical difficulties in breaking into the Brooklyn phone are less significant than with the San Bernardino phone or more up-to-date models, but a drug case represents a less compelling government need than a terror case.
Apple is scheduled to file its response to the government appeal on April 15.