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Apple's encryption doesn't get its day in court yet after all

Apple In Court
March 22, 2016

Apple’s attorneys were supposed to be in court today, March 22, to argue whether or not the All Writs Act had the power to compel Cupertino to assist in unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone 5c. At almost the last minute, however, the government vacated that hearing at the request of, believe it or not, the Department of Justice.

On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone. 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 set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case.

- United States Department of Justice

This move surprised just about everyone concerned, especially the folks at Apple. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and its director, James Comey, have made multiple statements insisting that only Apple has the expertise and ability to break into the iPhone 5c. That’s been the linchpin behind the whole request, because one of the tests that a warrant issued under the All Writs Act has to pass is whether it is “necessary and appropriate.”

What method was demonstrated to the FBI? Was it the process Edward Snowden pointed out earlier in March, that involves removing the effaceable storage from the device, making a copy of its contents, and then attempting to make a brute force attack on the device’s passcode?

Apple hopes that the law enforcement officials will share what they learn about iOS's vulnerabilities

The FBI isn’t saying, yet, but Apple hopes that the law enforcement officials will share what they learn about iOS’s vulnerabilities from their testing. I’m guessing, however, that the FBI will just reply with something like, “Nuh uh, we’re not telling you.” Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the Department of Justice or its affiliates are feeling too friendly towards Cupertino right now.

Meanwhile, the case isn’t over, yet. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym has stayed the order, and demands that the Department of Justice file a status report by April 5, 2016. Read the full order vacating the hearing below.