SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The U.S. Department of Justice has withdrawn its law suit trying to force Apple Inc. to help it access data on an iPhone used by a shooter in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The hard work of drawing a line between law enforcement and privacy remains ahead.
In a single-page document filed Monday, a U.S. attorney requested the court order be vacated. “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s [Syed’s] iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc.,” it said.
A wide swath of the tech community from AT&T to Twitter backed Apple with amicus briefs in support of its position. Both U.S, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently made the government’s case in public appearances in tech capitals of Austin and San Francisco, respectively.
It’s not clear whether the government accessed the iPhone’s data through a new or existing technique. A representative of the Justice Department was not immediately available for comment.
One DoJ spokesperson was quoted in a story by the New York Times:
“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 when cooperation fails…[and] we will continue to pursue all available options for this mission, including seeking the cooperation of manufacturers and relying upon the creativity of both the public and private sectors.”
Apple proponents cheered the decision.
“The consensus among credible technical experts has always been that there were multiple ways the FBI could attempt to bypass the phone’s security, and that the government’s goal in its legal fight with Apple was not to access the data on the phone but rather to set a precedent to compel private companies to build backdoors into their products,” said a digital rights group called Fight for the Future in a press statement.
“It couldn’t be clearer that they read the tea leaves, saw they were going to lose both in the court of law and the court of public opinion, and gave up, for now at least,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of the group that collected more than 20,000 comments supporting Apple.
Next page: Congress weighs in on the work ahead