FBI pulls back on Apple demands - because it has an alternative hack

Today's court showdown is cancelled, and Apple might be off the hook here

Tim Cook

Apple's big spring event yesterday wasn't kicked off by the introduction of the new iPhone SE or 9.7in iPad Pro, but rather a short speech by CEO Tim Cook about the company's ongoing battle with the FBI over iPhone encryption and user privacy.

It was something of a warm-up for today's scheduled court showdown, wherein Apple executives were expected to face United States Department of Justice representatives, but now it could end up being Apple's victory speech. That's because the FBI just requested that the hearing be cancelled, and the request was granted by the judge.

What happened? Well, in this case, it's mixed news: the FBI isn't giving Apple a break because Tim Cook makes good speeches, they suddenly recognise the value of personal security, or they realised they didn't have a good shot of winning the case. Instead, they're pulling back because they believe they have another way in.

A document filed with the court yesterday said that the FBI believes it has a method from an "outside party" to crack the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, a deceased terrorist who shot and killed several people in San Bernardino, California in December. If true, they won't need Apple's help to access the local data stored on the phone.

On the upside, Apple may no longer be legally compelled to code in a backdoor to iOS, potentially allowing governments and hackers alike an easier way to access your data. But it's a little unsettling to know that the hackers that are aiding the FBI now may already have a workaround.

Nothing is finalised for now, however. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym granted the request to cancel today's court hearing, but the government is required to file a progress report on 5 April. If the outside party's method works, then the case will likely be closed, and Apple won't have to do anything further. At least until the next governmental demand.

But if that approach doesn't pan out, then Apple's feet may be back to the fire as it argues its case with both a court of law and the court of public opinion. We'll find out in a couple weeks.

[Source: Engadget]

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