The federal government announced today that it has successfully accessed the data on San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's work iPhone 5C, and as such will drop its case demanding Apple build a backdoor into the phone. The legal battle sparked a nationwide controversy, with Apple and others arguing that, if complied with, the government's request would undermine the security of all Apple phones — a charge the government denied.
In a document filed this afternoon, the Justice Department says they don't need Apple's help after all.
"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," reads the filing. "Accordingly, the government hereby requests that the Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016 be vacated."
While it is not exactly clear how access was obtained, it looks like Israel-based firm Cellebrite reportedly hired last week to break into the phone, succeeded in its efforts. News that the firm had been hired came shortly after the government moved to postpone its March 22 court date with Apple. Critics of the government argued that officials likely knew they could access the phone's data the entire time, and were merely taking the tech giant to court for the purposes of setting legal precedent.
As the New York Times notes, it remains "unclear what useful data, if any, was found on Mr. Farook’s device."
At present, The Verge reports that we do not know the method by which authorities have gained access to the phone, or if the exploit is limited to the iPhone 5C. By dropping the case, the government now leaves the question of whether or not it can invoke the All Writs Act to compel a company to break its own encryption unresolved — so expect to see this issue come up again in the future.
Once again, as he did last week, Edward Snowden has posted an "I told you so" to Twitter.
Journalists: please remember that government argued for months that this was impossible, despite expert consensus. pic.twitter.com/7QdkjRKpXg— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 28, 2016