U.S. Says It May Not Need Apple’s Help to Unlock iPhone

The Justice Department said on Monday 21 march that it might no longer need Apple’s assistance in opening an iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino, Calif., rampage last year.

The disclosure led a judge to postpone a court hearing over the issue and temporarily sidesteps what has become a bitter clash with the world’s most valuable company.

In a new court filing, the government said an outside party had demonstrated a way for the F.B.I. to possibly unlock the phone used by the gunman, Syed Rizwan Farook. The hearing in the contentious case — Apple has loudly opposed opening the iPhone, citing privacy concerns and igniting a heated debate — was originally set for Tuesday.

While the Justice Department must test this method, if it works “it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple,” it said in its filing. The Justice Department added that it would file a status report by April 5 on its progress.

The change is a reprieve in the clash that has erupted over how and when the authorities should use the troves of digital data collected and stored by tech companies. The two sides have traded barbs over the issue since last month, when Apple received a court order demanding that the company weaken the security of the iPhone so law enforcement officials could gain access to the data in it.

The case has been viewed as a watershed moment in the debate over privacy and security.

Apple had opposed the court order, arguing that it would be a slippery slope that could force the company to open many iPhones, thus compromising the privacy of its customers and the strength of its product security. President Obama said this month that the law enforcement authorities must be able to legally collect information from smartphones and other devices, adding that he opposed the stance on encryption taken by tech companies like Apple.

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