Apple's officially off the hook.
The US Department of Justice, with the help of a third party, has successfully accessed data on a phone used by a terrorist in December's attack in San Bernardino, California, the agency revealed in a court filing Monday. It said it no longer needs Apple's assistance in unlocking the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, and it has asked Riverside, California-based US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym to vacate her order compelling Apple to assist in the case.
The move Monday ends the legal battle between Apple and the FBI in this particular case, but it doesn't end the overarching battle about privacy and security. There are hundreds of other iPhones that law enforcement agencies around the country want unlocked, opening Apple to potential litigation across the US. And the government's success at accessing data on the iPhone also raises some concerns about the security of Apple's devices.
"We sought an order compelling Apple to help unlock the phone to fulfill a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting -- that we will not rest until we have fully pursued every investigative lead related to the vicious attack," Eileen M. Decker, US attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. "Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack."
After the filing, Apple reiterated its belief that the FBI's demand for a backdoor was "wrong and would set a dangerous precedent" and said that "this case should never have been brought."
"Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy," Apple said in a statement. "Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk."
Last week, the Justice Department asked a judge to call off last Tuesday's hearing over whether Apple should have to make software that lets the FBI unlock an iPhone 5C connected to the San Bernardino attack. In a surprise revelation the day before the hearing, the government said an unnamed outside party had given investigators a method that might provide access to the phone's data. It wanted time to explore the alternative way to get into the iPhone.
Monday's move by the Justice Department ends the legal tussle between the tech titan and the government over a single iPhone, which has spun out into a broader debate with much more at stake. Technology companies and rights groups argue that strong encryption, which scrambles data so it can only be read by the right person, is needed to keep people safe and protect privacy. Law enforcement argues it can't fight crimes unless it has access to information on mobile devices.