"We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and over our privacy", CEO Tim Cook said.
Rather than compel the Cupertino giant to help it unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino killers, the Feds say they may be able to break into the handset without the company's assistance after all. "This is an issue that impacts all of us, and we will not shrink from this responsibility", Cook said.
But in a court filing on Monday, the DOJ said it may no longer need assistance from Apple.
The US Justice Department argues that it is making a "modest" demand that could help reveal vital evidence in a terror case. The government says they may have found an alternative way to access the suspected terrorist's cell phone.
Investigators want to break into an iPhone that was used by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, attacks that killed 14 people in December.
"They've created ambiguity in a place where they've previously said there is none", he said.
Of course, if the government drops the case - assuming it can gain access without Apple's assistance - Apple may not have the opportunity to get information about the method that is used.
For more than a month, the two sides have waged a very public debate over whether breaking into one phone would jeopardize the security of all encrypted devices.
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The FBI's Mr. Comey has called that a "mistake", though the Justice Department in its court fillings insists it wasn't a mistake and said there was never a realistic chance of retrieving data that way.
A federal judge in Riverside, California, late Monday agreed to the government's request to postpone a hearing scheduled for Tuesday so that the FBI could try the newly discovered technique.
"Our top priority has always been gaining access into the phone used by the terrorist in San Bernardino, " Justice spokeswoman Melanie Newman said Monday.
The government did not identify the third party or explain what the proposed method entailed.
"It's a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, the trust infrastructure undergirding the global software ecosystem, and how far technology companies and software developers can be conscripted as unwilling suppliers of hacking tools for governments", wrote Julian Sanchez, a surveillance law expert at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.
If you're confused about what Apple's fight with the Federal Bureau of Investigation is all about, here's what you need to know. Investigators still are trying to piece together what happened and find out if there were collaborators. This method will require testing to ensure it will not compromise the data on Farook's phone but, if successful, it means Apple won't be required to comply with the All Writs Act Order to move forward with the investigation and it's possible setting a unsafe legal precedent with the federal government can be avoided.
"We'll be watching carefully to see how this unfolds, but for now it appears that the government is attempting to gracefully back down from its unsafe request that Apple build a backdoor", he told the E-Commerce Times. Others recommended copying the phone's data in and out of flash memory while repeatedly attempting to guess Mr. Farook's four-character passcode, or extracting parts of the phone's cryptographic key by using a focused ion beam to probe its microprocessor. But they're asking for more time to see if this unnamed "outside party" has a method that works.