Justice Dept. to Apple: Never Mind on That Encryption Thing, Maybe

In the 11th hour, feds ask to delay court hearing over access to terrorist's work phone.


Remember how the FBI and the Department of Justice insisted it needed Apple's help trying to break through the passcode of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone without deleting the phone's contents?

Maybe not.

The DOJ and Apple were supposed to meet in court again tomorrow for another round of fighting on this issue. But now the DOJ has asked for and has been granted a court delay. They may have found a way to break into the phone without using the courts to try to force Apple to violate its own security measures to help them. From Politico:

"On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook's iPhone," federal prosecutors said in a 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 Inc. ("Apple") set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case."

"Accordingly, to provide time for testing the method, the government hereby requests that the hearing set for March 22, 2016 be vacated," government lawyers wrote.

That's some remarkable timing there! The FBI and DOJ have been insistent that there was no way to break into the phone without Apple's forced assistance. Yet, many have wondered whether that claim was true and whether there was nobody in, say, the National Security Agency (NSA), that could help break into the phone.

But it has also been obvious that this case was a test run for the government. If the feds could force Apple to assist in breaking its security to grant access to the work phone of a dead terrorist, then there were dozens of other phones they could demand access to. It was very clear this phone was chosen due to the circumstances of the case, hoping to avoid discussion of the larger issue. And yet, the feds have not done very well in the public relations campaign on this one. Every single notable tech and online communication company has lined up behind Apple to protect consumer security.

More on the Apple encryption case here. Stay tuned. Even if the Justice Dept. succeeds in breaking into Farook's phone without Apple's help, Congress is looking to draft legislation to control federal access to encrypted communication, and we'll definitely want to keep an eye out for the text of the bill. The draft legislation should be released any day now.