FBI Backs Off Apple, Asks To Delay March 22 Hearing, Claims To Have Found A Way Into iPhone

The continually twisting and turning rollercoaster that is the Apple versus the FBI encryption case has taken yet another unexpected turn. In a surprising turn of events, the FBI has officially filed a motion as part of an attempt to vacate the scheduled court hearing that was all set to take place in a Californian court Tuesday. In the motion, the FBI claims to have found another way to gain access to the iPhone used in the San Bernardino shootings, and in turn, no longer requires the assistance of Apple to break encryption and provide a backdoor into the iOS platform.

Rather than entirely dismiss the case, the filed FBI motion is an attempt to temporarily postponed Tuesday’s hearing to afford the government agency with enough time to satisfactorily determine whether or not this newly discovered method of access will give it the information that it requires from the device without the fear or corruption or loss of data during the process. The FBI’s new stance is in stark contrast to its previous claim that the only way it could possibly access the data on the iPhone 5c in question was to force Apple to write a new “GovtOS” version of iOS.


It’s currently entirely unknown where this new potential method of access to the data on the iPhone has come from. Although it has coincidentally appeared along the same time that researchers from John Hopkins University have publicly acknowledged that they had managed to find a security vulnerability in Apple’s iMessage that allowed photos and videos to be intercepted and decrypted. That vulnerability has been etched with the todays release of iOS 9.3, but exists on earlier versions of iOS 9, and presumably before that, too. There is however no proof whatsoever that the two happenings are related at all.

If the FBI really does have another potential method of accessing the data on the iPhone in question, then it’s only a matter of time until more information about that method filters out into the public domain. However, the more cynical minded amongst us will instantly wonder if the FBI and the government simply don’t think they have a strong enough case in this particular instance to take on Apple successfully in Tuesday’s hearing.

Where do your opinions lie? Do you think the FBI now has a legitimate method to access the data on that iPhone? Or is this a case of pre-case jitters before a trial it knows it can’t win? Is the government backing out of it?

You can read the full text of the FBI’s motion to vacate below.

(Source: SteveKovach [Scribd])

Update: Tomorrow’s hearing in the Apple-FBI case has now been officially cancelled. Judge has granted the government’s request to delay the hearing.

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