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The government will continue fight against NY iPhone unlocking ruling

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The San Bernardino fight might be over, but the government hasn't given up on its battle against Apple's security measures. In a filing today, US Attorney Robert L. Capers announced the government's intention to continue its appeal of a New York case, in which the government sought to compel Apple's help in unlocking an iPhone linked to a methamphetamine smuggling case. "The government’s application is not moot," Capers writes in the filing, "and the government continues to require Apple’s assistance in accessing the data that it is authorized to search by warrant."

In February, magistrate Judge Orenstein rejected the government's attempts to compel Apple's help under the All Writs Act, calling the argument "so expansive... as to cast doubt on the All Writs Act's constitutionality if adopted." The government had previously announced its intention to appeal that ruling, although some had speculated the appeal would be dropped in the wake of the government's retreat in the San Bernardino case. Today's filing makes it clear that the government will continue that fight, pressing the appeals court to overturn Orenstein's ruling in the months to come.

"The government’s application is not moot"

While the case may prove crucial for setting legal precedent, it's already potentially moot for a number of reasons. The suspect at the center of the case has already accepted a plea agreement from the government, so the proposed order is no longer necessary to prosecute his case. The phone at the center of the case is also running iOS 7 and can be unlocked by a number of conventional forensics tools, without either Apple's assistance or the use of the secret FBI method which abruptly ended the San Bernardino case.

Nevertheless, both Apple and the government have requested the case continue, so as to establish precedent for the government's powers in future cases involving locked phones. In a press conference last month, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance estimated there are as many as 175 such cases currently active in Manhattan alone.