The FBI has unlocked the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, officials said, 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 cancelled after the FBI said it no longer needed Apple's help and had found an outside party to unlock the phone.
"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."
The Justice Department said on Monday that it had found a way to unlock an iPhone without help from Apple, allowing the agency to withdraw its legal effort to compel the tech company to assist in a mass-shooting investigation.
The decision to drop the case — which involved demanding Apple’s help to open an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, a gunman in the December shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people — ends a legal standoff between the government and the world’s most valuable public company. The case had become increasingly contentious as Apple refused to help the authorities, inciting a debate about whether privacy or security was more important.
Yet law enforcement’s ability to now unlock an iPhone through an alternative method raises new uncertainties, including questions about the strength of security in Apple devices. The development also creates potential for new conflicts between the government and Apple about the method used to open the device and whether that technique will be disclosed. Lawyers for Apple have previously said the company would want to know the procedure used to crack open the smartphone, yet the government might classify the method.