Can FBI’s method open iPhone? Apple wants to wait and see


Apple iPhone 6s
Apple would like to let a case in Brooklyn cool off for a bit.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The FBI aren’t the only people interested in postponing court proceedings this week — Apple just requested a hold in its ongoing case in Brooklyn over a criminal’s locked phone.

Magistrate Judge James Orenstein has already ruled in Apple’s favor, saying that the government could not compel the company to breach its own software. But the government is appealing that decision, and Apple would like to see if some recent developments in a similar case might render a new decision unnecessary.

This case has paralleled the more famous dispute over the contents of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s device that has put the tech world in direct opposition to the U.S. government. That case was set to continue on Tuesday, but the FBI asked for a delay after it revealed that it may have discovered a way to crack the phone without Apple’s help. What happens in San Bernardino could set the balance between privacy and security.

The phone at the center of the proceedings in New York belonged to Jun Feng, who entered a guilty plea on some drug charges. But authorities say that the contents of his locked iPhone are still relevant in the ongoing investigation and tried to use the All Writs Act to force Apple to grant them access. Last month, Judge Orenstein said that Apple didn’t have to do it.

It’s in Apple’s best interests to wait and see if the rumored new method will work. If it does, the company can argue that it won’t have to help with any of the hundreds of requests to unlock phones that are currently pending. And in that case, Apple will likely fix whatever vulnerability the government exploits in a future version of its hardware or operating system, and this whole problem starts anew.

If the government’s rumored work-around doesn’t let it into the phone, however, both the Brooklyn appeal and the San Bernardino case will continue.

“If the [Department of Justice] claims that the method will not work on [Feng’s phone], Apple will seek to test that claim, as well as any claims by the government that other methods cannot be used,” Apple’s lawyers said in their filing (via NBC News).

Federal investigators have until March 29 to file a formal response to Apple’s request. Meanwhile, they say they will let the judge in the San Bernardino case know by April 9 whether or not they’ve successfully unlocked Farook’s phone.