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FBI Hacks Phone Alone, Drops Apple Suit

FBI Hacks Phone Alone, Drops Apple Suit

  • DOJ has withdrawn its legal attempt to compel Apple to unlock a criminal's iPhone;
  • The FBI claims to have unlocked the encryption on its own, but will not reveal how;
  • Apple expresses relief, but joins experts in saying Big Data privacy debate is not over. 

by ROB McMANAMY | April 1, 2016

How do you like them apples?

In an unexpected twist for a clash sure to have longer-lasting impact than Batman v. Superman, the cataclysmic tech privacy battle, U.S. v. Apple Inc., has been postponed until further notice.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook

This week, the U.S. Dept. of Justice officially dropped its legal action against Apple, filed in February, that had sought to compel the tech giant to provide "backdoor" access to the iPhone owned by one of the deceased terrorists responsible for December's San Bernardino shootings that left 14 dead and more than 20 wounded. Prior to the suit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had asked for Apple's help in hacking into the encrypted phone, but Apple CEO Tim Cook declined to cooperate on grounds that it would ultimately threaten the privacy of all mobile phone users. 

On March 28, however, the FBI announced in a federal court filing that it had "successfully accessed the data stored on (shooter Syed) Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc."  

Details of how the FBI managed to accomplish the task were not revealed, and DOJ made it clear in a separate statement that the issue may yet return in future cases. "It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties or through the court system," said the DOJ statement.

In response, Apple issued its own statement:

From the beginning, we objected to the FBI's demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government's dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought. We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.

Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk. This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.

Needless to say, the "Big Brother" debate over public safety, individual privacy, big data, and who controls it is long from over. And those issues certainly touch every industry, including ours.

Documenting history: Ironworkers record the opening of 1WTC in NYC last spring.  (Photo: Getty Images) 

Documenting history: Ironworkers record the opening of 1WTC in NYC last spring.  (Photo: Getty Images

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