FBI Gets Court Stay, Could Open iPhone Without Apple’s Help

Claiming that an "outside party" has demonstrated a possible method for unlocking an encrypted iPhone in its possession, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation yesterday has delayed its expected courtroom showdown with Apple.

Both parties had been due to appear in U.S. District Court in California today regarding the FBI's efforts to compel Apple to write new software to help break the encryption protections of an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, Calif. on December 2.

Following a telephone conference hearing yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym granted the FBI's request for a delay and ordered the government to update the court with a status report by April 5. However, the move is likely to be only a temporary reprieve in the privacy-vs-security battle between officials and technology companies.

'Not the End of This'

Lisa Hayes, vice president for programs and strategy at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) -- a civil liberties advocacy group -- told us she was surprised to learn of the last minute developments that led to the court stay. However, she added, "I suspect this is not the end of this."

Hayes said she was happy to hear about the postponement of the court hearing and noted there had been signs the government felt some uncertainty about its case prior to the hearing. In recent filings with the court, the FBI had indicated it wanted to call witnesses during the hearing, which suggested it wasn't fully confident in the technology arguments it was making.

"The government was acting a little bit skittishly," Hayes said. Technology companies tend to be one step ahead of agencies that are pursuing efforts to weaken encryption, she said. However, "we have no idea...

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