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Apple's encryption battle with the FBI is over, for now

The iPhone encryption was cracked by a third party.

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The Department of Justice has dropped its case against Apple. After over a month of court motions, congressional hearings and public fights over circumventing the security of the iPhone 5C used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, the government has decided it doesn't need Apple after all. Instead, the third party brought in to break Apple's encryption has been successful according to court documents.

The court vacated the original motion today after getting a status report. It states:

The Court has reviewed the government's Status Report, filed March 28, 2016. GOOD CAUSE HAVING BEEN SHOWN, the Court hereby VACATES the Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016.

This doesn't come as a surprise. Right before both parties were to argue their case before magistrate judge Pym, the DoJ filed to vacate the hearing. According to that motion, a third party approached the FBI the weekend before the event with an alternative way to get into the iPhone. The government then had until April 5 to file a progress report on how the testing was coming along. That progress report was filed today and the case vacated.

In its motion the DoJ states:

The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook's iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc. mandated by Court's Order Compelling Apple Inc. to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016.

Apple was surprised about last week's filing to vacate the hearing, but vowed that if the case progressed, it would seek information about the party and the method used to hack into the iPhone. Now that the Justice Department has backed out, it can't file for information about the researcher or the method used. According to the Guardian, the government has deemed the exploit classified.

The government had earlier stated that only Apple could circumvent the iPhone's security measures. When it announced it had found a third party to break into the phone, that argument became pretty worthless in its case against the company.

This doesn't mean that Apple is in the clear. The DoJ could ask the company to circumvent the security within a newer iPhone and this whole thing will start over again. For now, this is a victory for Apple and other companies that don't want to break the encryption of their products even if compelled by law enforcement.

Update: Apple sent the following statement to Engadget:

From the beginning, we objected to the FBI's demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government's dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.

We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.

Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.

This case raised issues which deserve a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy. Apple remains committed to participating in that discussion.

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