Syed Farook and his wife opened fire on a company party killing 14. The FBI wants to look for terrorism leads on his iPhone. Apple complied with subpoenas but said iPhones have full disc encryption - no backdoor.
That's where Sheri Pym enters the case. She's a federal magistrate judge. Magistrate judges aren't regular judges. They're not nominated by presidents, they're not confirmed by senators. They hired by regular judges to help out, mostly by handling first appearances of defendants and setting bail. Sheri Pym went miles beyond all that, ordering Apple to CREATE a backdoor to let the FBI see what's in Farook's iPhone, a backdoor that could then be used on anyone's iPhone. Apple CEO Tim Cook says Apple won't do it, setting up a legal showdown.
Precedent here is murky. It turns on a really vague 1789 law called the All Writs Act. In 1977 it was used to make phone companies create a register of all the numbers your phone calls. In 2005 the FBI failed to make the phone company do real-time tracking of a cellphone without a warrant
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