The first hearing in the legal battle between Apple and the FBI was scheduled for tomorrow, but the government has unexpectedly asked the judge to postpone the hearing. The reason? The government believes it may have an alternative way to break into the iPhone, one that wouldn’t require Apple’s assistance.
The request states that an outside party showed the FBI a possible method to unlock the phone in this case. The FBI needs time to test the method to determine if it is viable and it will not compromise the data on the phone. For this reason, the government has requested that the hearing be vacated, and for the government to give a status report on April 5. The court has accepted the request.
If the FBI really has found another way to break into the phone it would be an important development. A major point in Apple’s own filings is the body of precedent that law enforcement must exhaust all possibilities of executing a warrant on their own before compelling third parties to assist. It could lead not only to a legal defeat but also a major embarrassment if it comes out during the hearing that the FBI has a possible method to break into the phone that doesn’t require Apple’s assistance.
However, some observers have interpreted this filing as a face-saving way for the FBI to retreat from its standoff with Apple. Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes that the government will lose credibility with the court if they try to push for Apple’s cooperation after filing this motion. He concludes, “I think this is a good indication that this San Bernardino fight is over…Chalk this one up as a win for Apple.” However, he warns that even if this fight is over, the government is still out to undermine strong encryption. “The FBI figured out another way in, which we knew they had or could get if they really wanted,” Cardozo stated, “They made a strategic decision to call off this one as the test case.”
The Department of Justice issued its own statement on the matter. “Our top priority has always been gaining access into the phone used by the terrorist in San Bernardino. With this goal in mind, the FBI has continued in its efforts to gain access to the phone without Apple’s assistance, even during a month-long period of litigation with the company,” that statement reads. It also states that the DOJ is “cautiously optimistic” that the new method will allow the FBI to search the phone.
Do you think FBI is backing away from this fight due to public opinion? Leave your comments below.