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FBI May Have Found Way to Unlock Terrorist's iPhone

Image: FBI May Have Found Way to Unlock Terrorist's iPhone

Monday, 21 Mar 2016 09:59 PM

The U.S. government said it may not need Apple's help in unlocking a terrorist's iPhone after all.

A court hearing set for Tuesday over a magistrate judge's order requiring Apple Inc. to help the FBI unlock a phone was canceled at the Justice Department's request. The government said in a court filing Monday that it wanted to test a possible method for accessing data on the phone, which was used by one of the attackers who killed 14 and wounded 22 at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.

The cancellation avoids a courtroom face-off with prosecutors at least for now. The Justice Department didn't name who or what proposed a method for unlocking the phone. The government was ordered by the judge to file a report on the status of its efforts by April 5.

"The FBI has continued in its efforts to gain access to the phone without Apple's assistance, even during a monthlong period of litigation with the company," Melanie Newman, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. "An outside party demonstrated to the FBI this past weekend a possible method for unlocking the phone. We must first test this method to ensure that it doesn't destroy the data on the phone, but we remain cautiously optimistic."

Apple has vigorously opposed the request, saying it was an unreasonable demand on the company and threatened the privacy and data security of millions of iPhone users. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, at Apple's product event Monday announcing the release of a smaller iPhone, opened the event by wading into the political debate over privacy and encryption, saying "We believe strongly we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and your privacy."

The event closed with rocker Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" blaring over over the sound system.

Apple attorneys said they have no information about the FBI's new claim that it may be able to access the iPhone without company's help. They only found about it Monday, they said.

New Method

The Justice Department is cautiously optimistic that the new method will work, said a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified. The Justice Department won't need Apple's help in running tests and should know by April 5 whether it works, the official said.

The entity that approached the Justice Department on Sunday isn't part of the U.S. government but the official declined to provide any other details about it.

If the method works, it will eliminate the need for the court case against Apple to continue, but it's too early to say if the technique could also be applied to other cases, the official said.

"There's a lot of people right now who are curious who this third party is," said David O'Brien, a senior researcher with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. "It appears the FBI turned away from the opportunity to test its case in court and get a ruling that could have set a precedent."

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The U.S. government said it may not need Apple's help in unlocking a terrorist's iPhone after all.
US, Apple Encryption, The Latest
Monday, 21 Mar 2016 09:59 PM
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