It’s almost official; the ongoing court battle between Apple and the Department of Justice over the San Bernardino iPhone 5c is coming to a close. Through its work with Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite, law enforcement officials have been able to access the data stored on deceased shooter Syed Farook’s work iPhone. The Department of Justice has announced that it plans to drop the case altogether, according to statements made to USA Today.
The end of six weeks of growing tension in court
The battle between Cupertino and the Department of Justice has been heating up for weeks, with harsh words uttered from both sides of the argument. When the court in California first issued its order compelling Apple to write a custom version of iOS disabling the operating system’s data wipe safeguard, Tim Cook responded with a public letter outlining Apple’s intention to appeal the matter.
If you’ve been unaware of the ongoing strife, the visualization below should bring you up to speed.
Did the FBI really need Apple's help?
The rhetoric between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigations continued right up until March 22, the day of the court hearing when Cupertino would have made its case against the authority of the All Writs Act to be used in such a fashion. Almost at the last minute, the Department of Justice asked to delay the hearing, stating that a third party had demonstrated a possible method for unlocking the iPhone.
The following day, March 23, we learned that the FBI was possibly working with Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite to unlock the iPhone. Cellebrite made no comment, and nothing was divulged regarding what method was going to be employed to unlock the device. We’d heard of at least one method earlier in the month, though, that might allow the device’s encryption to be bypassed without Apple’s assistance.
And now, it's done
Today, March 28, the Department of Justice has officially asked to drop the case. In its filing, the government acknowledges that it has accessed the information on Farook’s iPhone 5c, and is beginning to examine the data stored on the device. The full court order is below.
The question left in my mind is, did the FBI or the Department of Justice really, at any time, think that only Apple could assist in unlocking the iPhone? Such a supposition seems pretty unlikely, and I think that the government just decided it would be easier to force Apple to unlock the device rather than having to pay a third party to do it.
Whatever the answer may be, this particular court case is now over. The underlying issue remains, though, of whether the government may want to force Cupertino to include a “back door” into its iOS devices. Legislation is still ongoing in both California and New York to just that end, and Congress has begun debating the issue, as well.