The Department of Justice is putting its battle against Apple on hold.
In a new court filing published today, the U.S. government has asked a federal court to vacate the hearing set for Tuesday between Apple and the FBI on whether the company can be legally compelled to write software that would assist the FBI in hacking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone.
So did the feds finally see the error of their ways when it comes to weakenening iOS security? Not quite. But the government says it may have found a way to hack terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone 5c without Apple’s assistance.
“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone,” federal prosecutors said in their filing Monday afternoon.
“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 the assistance from Apple set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.”
It sounds like somebody found a zero-day exploit in iOS 9 and they’re going to teach the FBI how to use it. The government’s lawyers have asked the court to vacate the March 22 hearing to provide time for testing the new method. The FBI has offered to provide a status report by April 5 on the hack.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told the press at today’s iPhone SE event that the company will remain vigilant in its fight against government demands that would erode citizens’ right to privacy and security.
Apple’s lawyers planned to argue at the hearing that the government’s request violated the company’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.
The feds’ move to drop the hearing comes as a big surprise. On Friday, the government threw Apple a last-minute curveball by requesting an evidentiary hearing that would have allowed witnesses on both sides to be cross-examined.
In Apple’s last filing before the March 22 hearing, the company argued that the government was trying to use the All Writs Act like a “magic wand.” Apple has said that even though the government’s motivations may be admirable, “its methods for achieving its objectives are contrary to the rule of law, the democratic process, and the rights of the American people.”