Man whose iPhone passcode DOJ wanted Apple to bypass enters guilty plea

The development removes pressure on a New York court for an expedited decision on the dispute

Jun Feng, a defendant in a criminal case, has entered a guilty plea, removing pressure from a New York court to decide quickly whether Apple is required to aid investigators by bypassing his iPhone 5s passcode.

Feng had been indicted on three counts related to the possession and distribution of methamphetamine. The U.S. Department of Justice had asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for an expedited decision so as to secure evidence in a trial scheduled to begin on Nov. 16.

But on Thursday, DOJ informed the court that Feng has entered a guilty plea. "The government persists in the application pending before the Court, but in view of the guilty plea, no longer requests expedited treatment," U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers wrote in a letter to Magistrate Judge James Orenstein.

The guilty plea will probably raise questions as to whether access to the iPhone data was really critical to the DOJ's investigations.

The dispute over whether Apple is required to assist the DOJ in its investigations is one of many controversies surrounding the use of access protection and encryption by tech companies in their products and services.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, for example, has complained that the encryption comes in the way of monitoring terrorists who use these encrypted channels for recruitment and other communications. But he ruled out legislation at this point to force tech companies to provide access to these devices and communications, indicating that the government was in negotiations with the companies.

Civil rights and tech industry groups have, meanwhile, asked President Barack Obama to take a stand on the issue by ruling out any dilution of encryption, such as mandating the creation of backdoors for law enforcement.

In the Feng investigation, a magistrate judge in the New York court had issued a warrant to search the phone for evidence but law enforcement was unable to do so because of the passcode mechanism, and asked Apple for assistance.

In the lawsuit, Apple questioned the applicability to the case of the All Writs Act, a federal statute invoked by the DOJ. It has also argued that a company cannot be forced to "take possession of a device outside of its possession or control and perform services on that device."

But at the request of the New York court it provided information on the feasibility and likely burden of executing the DOJ requirement.

The company said it was possible to extract certain types of unencrypted user data from the iPhone 5s phone running iOS 7, though it would not have been possible if it was a device running iOS 8 or higher. But it added that accessing the information on the phone and the possible requirement that Apple staff testify at trial would put an unnecessary burden on the company as the number of government requests increase.

As significant was Apple's comment that forcing it to extract data in the case, without a clear legal authority, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand, which would be a harm to its reputation that could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue. "Public sensitivity to issues regarding digital privacy and security is at an unprecedented level. This is true not only with respect to illegal hacking by criminals but also in the area of government access—both disclosed and covert," it said in a filing.

Judge Orenstein had earlier expressed his doubt whether the government could use the All Writs Act to force an electronics device provider to assist law enforcement in its investigations and had asked for comments from Apple on whether executing the order would be unduly burdensome.

The DOJ said that Apple had previously helped law enforcement in federal criminal cases to extract data from password-locked iPhones under court orders. Apple countered that its previous acquiescence to judicial orders does not mean it consents to the process and cannot take a position in response to the court's inquiry. 

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?