FBI drops its fight with Apple over shooter's recovered iPhone 5C

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Looks like the feud between Apple and the FBI is over – at least for now –  as government officials told the press on Monday that a third party managed to unlock the controversial iPhone 5C that was previously assigned to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the individuals of the December 2015 San Barnardino shootings. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding who unlocked the phone, or what was obtained from the device.

Before the device was unlocked by an unknown party, the FBI faced a roadblock thanks to the phone’s passcode feature, which would begin deleting information if the code was entered incorrectly more than ten times. Since the iPhone 5C encrypts its storage, there was no way to access it without knowing the passcode — or so everyone thought.

“Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead.”

“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,” the FBI’s statement said. “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. The San Bernardino victims deserve nothing less.”

Farook and his wife killed 14 people and wounded 22 others when they raided the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The two killers destroyed their personal phones, but law officials found the iPhone 5C left behind in their car. This phone was issued to Farook by San Bernardino county, as Farook worked for the Department of Health before the attack. The FBI believed that information leading to other terrorist could be on the device.

The husband of one of the shooting victims spoke out in Apple’s favor earlier this month. Anies Kondoker said that his wife was also a county worker assigned an iPhone, and that she didn’t use it for personal matters.  He pointed out that it’s unreasonable to believe that Farook would use the phone for terrorist activities when the county could confiscate the device at any time. He believes that nothing is on the device, just like many others who have sided with Apple in this case.

Apple CEO Tim Cook published a public letter to consumers in February, saying that the creation of a special version of iOS for the FBI would be too dangerous, as it would essentially give the FBI a backdoor to iPhone devices. The FBI originally stated that this “tool” would be used on just the San Bernardino phone. However, the Justice Department eventually revealed a whole lineup of iPhones it wanted to unlock. And if iOS ever fell into the wrong hands, it would be bad news for Apple customers.

Tim Cook pointed out that with the development of an insecure version of iOS, Apple would need to create a special lab so that the FBI could use the tool locally. This lab would require Apple employees, an expense in time and money that the company doesn’t feel that it should pay.

“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data,” Cook said. “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Related: FBI enlists mobile forensic firm to crack terrorist’s iPhone

For now, all the iPhone hoopla is behind us. As seen a recent court filing PDF, the government no longer needs Apple’s assistance in this particular case. Thus, the agency is asking the court to vacate its February 16 request to force Apple’s help. Just days ago the agency had the court order put on hold as it verified that breaking into the phone was possible without Apple’s help. It looks like the break-in was a success.

Was there anything on the phone? We still won’t know, and probably won’t for some time. For now, at least, the drama seems to have subsided, but this same issue may crop up again the next time law enforcement finds itself in possession of a locked iPhone.

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