The saga over whether the US government should legally be allowed to force Apple to write software to help it unlock seized iPhones may be over soon — or at least the first round. The government has confirmed that it was able to get the data off the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook without Apple’s help.
“The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. mandated by Court’s Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016,” the latest government status report, released today, reads.
An unnamed government official told USA Today that the Justice Department plans to withdraw its case against Apple. The FBI delayed its court hearing against Apple so it could try an alternate method of unlocking the iPhone. We still don’t know exactly what that method was, but many security experts suspect it involved NAND mirroring.
One enormous question remaining: What was on the damn phone?
And another: How will this case affect how the government pursues cooperation from tech companies in the future? This is not an end to the tension between law enforcement officials and companies with a business interest in safeguarding user data.
While the DOJ wasn’t able to use this particular case to establish precedent, the government filing is worded to very clearly emphasise that it was legally right to force Apple to help. The contested assistance, in this filing, is “mandated”.
This is a way of pulling out of the conflict without admitting that the government’s legal argument sucked. It is a temporary détente at most.