The Department of Justice (DOJ) has withdrawn legal again forcing Apple to assist in unlocking the iPhone linked to last year’s San Bernadino shootings, saying it has successfully managed to extract data from the target device.
The DOJ moved to vacate a court order compelling Apple to assist in the FBI’s ongoing investigation. With a working exploit, authorities no longer need Apple’s help and cannot assert the All Writs Act to force the firm’s assistance.
“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”, said the government in a court filing.
An unnamed official informed USA Today of the DOJ’s plans on Monday, a week before prosecutors in the case are due to update the court on the efficacy of a third-party unlock method that was discovered earlier this month. Court reporter Dan Levine from Reuters confirmed the decision via Twitter.
“It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails” said DOJ spokesperson Melanie Newman in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “We will continue to pursue all available options for this mission, including seeking the cooperation of manufacturers and relying upon the creativity of both the public and private sectors”.
In February this year Apple was ordered by a judge to comply with the FBI’s demands to unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. The company resisted, saying that a software workaround compromises the security of millions of iOS devices around the world, and had implications for the public’s right to privacy.
The case spilled into the public arena, sparking a debate over national security and civil rights, with high stakes for both sides. In a twist just a day before an initial hearing, prosecutors called for a delay after they learned of a potential workaround from a third party. It appears now that the method was effective, making all prior arguments redundant.
With an iOS exploit now in the wild, attention may now move to Apple. The company’s assertions that iOS was almost impossible to hack now seem questionable. Apple will need to work even harder to secure its devices against such an attack that might be revealed in public as court evidence.
The government has apparently not yet determined whether it will provide Apple with details of the vulnerability, although it seems unlikely.
Apple has since issued a statement on the matter as reported by BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski:
“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.
We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.
Apple believes deeply that people in the States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.
This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion”.
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.