Justice Department Withdraws Request in Apple iPhone Case
(ABC News) — The Justice Department is vacating legal action asking Apple to help unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, federal officials said today.
Melanie Newman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a statement today that “it remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety.”
“As the government noted in its filing today, the FBI has now successfully retrieved the data stored on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple required by this Court Order. The FBI is currently reviewing the information on the phone, consistent with standard investigatory procedures,” Newman said.
The move comes one week after federal officials revealed a third party had come forward and “demonstrated” a “possible method” to cracking into a locked iPhone, prompting the U.S. government to postpone a court hearing scheduled for last Tuesday.
Apple has been fighting a government order compelling Apple to help create a way for officials to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich said in a statement Monday night that the agency “cannot comment on the technical steps that were taken to obtain the contents of the county-issued iPhone, nor the identity of the third party that came forward as a result of the publicity generated by the court order.”
“During the past week, to include the weekend, extensive testing of the iPhone was done by highly skilled personnel to ensure that the contents of the phone would remain intact once technical methods were applied. The full exploitation of the phone and follow-up investigative steps are continuing,” Bowdich added. “My law enforcement partners and I made a commitment to the victims of the 12/2 attack in San Bernardino and to the American people that no stone would be left unturned in this case. We promised to explore every investigative avenue in order to learn whether the San Bernardino suspects were working with others, were targeting others, or whether or not they were supported by others.”
“While we continue to explore the contents of the iPhone and other evidence, these questions may not be fully resolved, but I am satisfied that we have access to more answers than we did before and that the investigative process is moving forward,” he said.
Apple responded Monday night to the case being dropped, noting that this case “should never have been brought.”
“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,” Apple said in a statement Monday night.
“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,” the company added. “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,” Apple said.
Apple has been staunch in its position that creating a backdoor for government officials would undermine the security of millions of users. CEO Tim Cook kicked off the company’s iPhone SE launch event last week discussing the encryption fight, adding the company never expected to be “at odds with our own government.”
“We did not expect to be in this position, at odds with our own government. But we believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy. We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country,” Cook said.
“Encryption is meant to be difficult, it is meant to be scrambled,” online safety expert Robert Siciliano of Intel Security told ABC News. “However, we are dealing with computer science — and science of any kind can be reverse engineered. If it can be built by putting together various technology, it can also be taken apart and its roots exposed.”
ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Jonathan Karl and Ali Weinberg contributed to this report.