FBI May Not Need Apple to Unlock Shooter’s iPhone

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FBI Director, Apple General Counsel Testify Before House Encryption Hearing
Sorry Tim Cook, but FBI Director James Comey has decided to see other people.Photo: Drew Angerer/2016 Getty Images

There’s no doubt the FBI and Apple have been on the rocks lately. After the FBI demanded that Apple help it unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, Apple refused and was dragged back to court. Everyone took sides, but now it looks like the two are finally ready to go their separate ways. On Monday afternoon, federal lawyers asked a judge to cancel a hearing with Apple for the simple reason that the FBI has reportedly moved on.

The Feds were approached by an unnamed “outside party” that presented “a possible method” for unlocking the phone without Apple’s help, BuzzFeed News reports. In light of this announcement, Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym canceled the hearing and put on hold the order requiring Apple to assist the FBI in its investigation.

Given the international attention the case has attracted, this isn’t the first third-party tech support offer the FBI has received. But a law-enforcement official told BuzzFeed that the “outside party” who approached the Feds on Sunday offered a viable option. (The official refused to confirm whether said outside party was of foreign or domestic origins.) In its filing, the Justice Department said it must test the method first, but if it works “it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple.”

Apple’s attorneys said they were told nothing to indicate the government was pursuing other options behind their back, but reminded reporters the Feds could drag Apple back to court in a few weeks if their new method doesn’t pan out. Unsurprisingly, the tech company also said it hopes the Justice Department will fill it in on what method is ultimately used to unlock the shooter’s phone.

Despite the momentary cessation of hostilities, Alex Abdo, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times that this “will only delay an inevitable fight over whether the government can force Apple to break the security of its devices.” In other words, there’s still plenty of time for unprecedented government access to data to warp the sociopolitical landscape forever.