Wed, Mar 30, 2016 - Page 7 News List

FBI unlocks San Bernardino iPhone

‘RECKLESS’:Critics accused the US government of using the case as an excuse to have tech firms create backdoors in software and pointed to the dismissal as proof

AFP, LOS ANGELES

The US FBI has unlocked the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, officials said on Monday, ending a heated legal standoff with Apple that had pitted US authorities against Silicon Valley.

Apple, backed by a broad coalition of technology giants like Google and Facebook, was fiercely opposed to assisting the US government in unlocking the iPhone on grounds it would have wide-reaching implications on digital security and privacy.

A key court hearing scheduled earlier this month to hear arguments from both sides in the sensitive case was abruptly canceled after the FBI said it no longer needed Apple’s help and had found an outside party to unlock the smartphone.

“Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone,” US attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement.

“We sought an order compelling Apple to help unlock the phone to fulfill a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting — that we will not rest until we have fully pursued every investigative lead related to the vicious attack,” she added.

It was unclear who helped the FBI access the smartphone and what was stored on the device, but news reports have said the FBI might have sought assistance from an Israeli forensics company.

In a court filing asking that the case be dismissed, prosecutors said the US government had “successfully accessed the data stored on [Syed] Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires assistance from Apple Inc.”

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2 last year before dying in a firefight with police. Two other smartphones linked to the pair were found destroyed after the attack.

Tech companies, security experts and civil rights advocates had vowed to fight the government, saying it would set a precedent to compel companies to build backdoors into their products..

The government had fired back, insisting that Apple was not above the law and that its request for technical assistance concerned only Farook’s work phone from the San Bernardino health department.

Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that supports Apple, said Monday’s announcement was proof the government had an alternative motive in the case.

“The FBI’s credibility just hit a new low,” he said in a statement. “They repeatedly lied to the court and the public in pursuit of a dangerous precedent that would have made all of us less safe.”

“Fortunately, Internet users mobilized quickly and powerfully to educate the public about the dangers of backdoors, and together we forced the government to back down,” he added.

In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal also criticized the US Department of Justice’s legal battle as “reckless” and said the FBI had “fibbed by saying the Apple case is about one phone.”

FBI director James Comey said his agency only decided to back down in the court case after it found a third party that could crack the smartphone.

“You are simply wrong to assert that the FBI and the Justice Department lied about our ability to access the San Bernardino killer’s phone,” Comey said in an open letter.

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