In October 2015, Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, expressed strong doubts that he had legal authority to order Apple to unlock an iPhone in government possession.
"[Apple] is a private-sector company that is free to choose to promote its customers' interests in privacy over the competing interest of law enforcement," wrote Orenstein in his memorandum and court order.
Anthony Sabino, an attorney and law professor at St. John's University, said he agrees with Orenstein's assessment.
"The law is somewhat esoteric. It is just not something that comes into play a lot. It is usually used in situations where there is some sort of conflict between the federal court authority and the state court authority," said Sabino. "As far as characterizing the All Writs Law, it is much more of a jurisdictional statute as opposed to one that truly touches on search and seizure."
The main problem with using the All Writs Act against Apple, Sabino said, is the issue of the government wanting the tech giant to create a master key to access the data from one of the San Bernardino perpetrators' phones. Once the FBI has this key, there is concern that it can access anyone's smartphone, he added.
"I trust the FBI, and I believe in the FBI, but I don't know if I want a government agency to search anyone's information without a search warrant," said Sabino. "That's a tremendous amount of power to hand over. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can't get him back in."