DOJ Says It May Not Need Apple’s Help to Unlock iPhone
The Justice Department asked a judge on Monday to postpone a hearing scheduled for the next day about whether Apple should be compelled to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
The surprise last minute filing said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would try to access the data stored on the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook through alternate means, without specifying exactly how. It raises the possibility of a truce between the federal government and Apple, which have waged a public war over the propriety of the company helping law enforcement access the data.
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“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone,” the federal prosecutors wrote. “Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for assistance from Apple.”
Melanie Newman, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement emailed to Fortune that the agency needs time to explore the new option. “We must first test this method to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the data on the phone, but we remain cautiously optimistic,” she said.
“That is why we asked the court to give us some time to explore this option,” Newman continued. “If this solution works, it will allow us to search the phone and continue our investigation into the terrorist attack that killed 14 people and wounded 22 people.”
The move comes on the same day that Apple held an event on the company’s campus to unveil a series of updates to its products. In his opening remarks, CEO Tim Cook reiterated his commitment to battling the FBI’s legal request to unlock the iPhone, which he and other tech companies have described as a threat to customer privacy and an open invitation to hackers.
“We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy,” he said. “This is an issue that impacts all of us, and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”
For more about Tim Cook’s remarks, watch:
On Monday, news also broke that a team of computer security researchers at Johns Hopkins University had found a security flaw in Apple’s iMessage, an application through which iPhone users may chat. The vulnerability, fixed in the company’s newly released iOS 9.3 software update, could let hackers steal users’ photos and video correspondence.
An Apple spokesperson told Fortune in an email that the company is waiting to hear whether the judge would accept the government’s request to postpone the hearing. The Justice Department’s latest court filing proposes an April 5 deadline for the government to update the court about its progress in unlocking the phone without Apple’s help.