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Judge draws parallels between iPhone search request and lethal injection drugs

Ordering Apple to unlock an iPhone's data against its will is akin to ordering a drug company to supply drugs for a lethal injection, a judge commented in the ongoing dispute over a Justice Department request.

Magistrate Judge James Orenstein used the analogy on Monday in explaining why he might not have the authority to force Apple to help with a specific iPhone, which is tied to a secret case also involving the FBI and the DEA, the BBC reported. "What you're asking [Apple] to do is do work for you," Orenstein told Justice Department lawyer Saritha Komatireddy.

Komatireddy called the analogy "somewhat inflammatory," leading Orenstein to reply that it was "purposefully so."

The judge is inviting both sides to submit further letters by Wednesday in response to questions raised.

Last week Apple expressed reluctance about fulfilling the unlock request, even though the device is based on iOS 7 and therefore partly vulnerable to Apple intrusion. iOS 8 and 9 use full-disk encryption that Apple claims even it can't break.

On Monday Komatireddy challenged Apple on the matter, noting that the company "has been doing this for years without any objection." Orenstein put the issue to Apple lawyer Marc Zwillinger, who in turn suggested the company is more worried about customer data in view of high-profile hacks.

"Right now, Apple is aware that customer data is under siege from a variety of different directions," Zwillinger added.

Apple has made privacy a recurring theme in its marketing since 2013, when leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden helped expose mass surveillance programs and the general vulnerability of Internet and device security. Apple is believed to have been a target of the NSA, though the company has denied cooperating.

More recently Apple and other technology companies have been pressured to create "backdoors" for American law enforcement. CEO Tim Cook has taken an active stance against that concept, which critics have argued would not only simplify mass surveillance but render systems more susceptible to hacking.