Good to Know — March 3, 2016

What we’re keeping an eye on this week.


A federal judge in New York says that Apple can’t be forced to break a locked iPhone in drug case.

Photo by Jeffrey Zeldman.

On Monday, a federal Magistrate Judge in New York ruled that Apple can’t be compelled to unlock an iPhone that was seized by the DEA in a 2014 drug case. The phone belongs to Jun Feng. Feng, along with six other defendants, were charged with running a drug ring that distributed MDMA and crystal meth — charges to which Feng has now pled guilty. A year after his arrest, law enforcement determined that they wanted to examine Feng’s iPhone for more evidence.

The only problem? Feng claimed that he had forgotten his phone’s password.

Unlike the high-profile San Bernardino case, Feng’s case involves a different iPhone model, operating system, and a different government request for technical help. Nevertheless, like the San Bernardino case, prosecutors relied on the 1789 All Writs Act to obtain a court order that’d compel Apple to bypass the phone’s passcode screen.

As his 50-page opinion makes clear, Judge Orenstein wasn’t convinced that the government could rely on the All Writs Act to force Apple to extract data from an iPhone seized in a drug case. He expressed grave concern with the federal government’s broad reading of the All Writs Act — a reading so broad, he argued, that it would cast doubt on the act’s constitutionality.

Judge Orenstein’s ruling is not binding in any other court. But his order will be of outsized importance simply because it is the first to address whether the All Writs Act can be used to force companies to facilitate the government’s access to a phone.


Computational literacy, not just coding — changing how computer science is taught in classrooms.

Photo by by Sai Kiran Anagani

The chorus calling for coding in the classroom is growing louder and louder. But is classroom coding, in and of itself, enough to help students — particularly from marginalized communities — gain a foothold in the tech workforce?

Melinda Anderson explores that question in The Atlantic, wondering if the push for coding in schools might actually lead to the creation of “technical ghettos”:

in the rush to feed the pipeline, though, some are questioning what was overlooked. Educators and technology professionals are voicing concerns about the singular focus on coding — for all students, whether learning coding is enough to build computational thinking and knowledge, and for students of color in particular, whether the emphasis on knowing Java and JavaScript only puts them on the bottom rung of the tech workforce.
Quincy Brown, the science-and-technology-policy fellow with the National Science Foundation and a computer-science professor at Bowie State University, agrees … that merely knowing how to write code is insufficient. As coding gains prominence in the national discourse, Brown says it’s creating “a false equivalence between computer science and programming [when] they are not the same.” She explains that spotting a problem, identifying the first steps to a solution, and plotting a course to a successful resolution is “the heart of computer science,” stressing that the process differs greatly from learning how to code “just as learning how to read is not the same thing as developing [reading] comprehension.”

In a first, Maryland appeals court finds warrantless Stingray use to be illegal.

Photo by by Arlo Bates

Yesterday, a Maryland appeals court became the first appeals court in the nation to throw out evidence obtained from the secret use of a Stingray, finding that the warrantless police use of a Stingray was illegal. The Court is expected to issue a longer opinion, detailing its reasoning, soon. Read more about the case here.