The U.S. Department of Justice may be withdrawing its legal action against Apple.
Multiple media outlets reported yesterday (March 28) that a federal law enforcement official confirmed the Justice Department has successfully gained access to the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorist and no longer needs to push for Apple’s assistance.
While the official did not reveal the method that allowed investigators to bypass Apple’s encryption on the device, the source did say it was provided by an unidentified entity.
Tensions have continued to run high between the tech giant and the FBI since mid-February when Apple opposed the court ruling ordering it to assist the FBI in the agency’s efforts to set up “backdoor” access to the device, a move Apple called “an unprecedented step, which threatens the security of our customers.”
The public, as well as many notable figures, such as Google CEO Sundar Pinchai, Retired General Michael Hayden and even PayPal Cofounder Max Levchin, have thrown their support either behind Apple or the government in the controversial case.
But, just last week, the tide seemed to turn as reports surfaced that the government was looking elsewhere for help in cracking into the phone’s contents.
A postponement in the case came in the wake of a filing with the United States District Court in Riverside, California, in which the government said an “outside party” showed the FBI there was a possible alternate method to unlock the phone that was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people, with help from his wife, in California last December.
The Department of Justice then delayed the long-awaited hearing that was set to take place on Tuesday (March 22), leaving the fate of the case in limbo up until the most recent reports.
As we await confirmation from the DOJ on if it has really dropped its legal action against Apple, the encryption debate is quickly heating up again as it heads to Europe.
With the onslaught of terrorist attacks that have taken place across Europe in recent years, governments throughout the European Union are also pushing for more access into the digital lives of its citizens.
French lawmakers in particular are expected to continue debating proposals to strengthen laws, which would subsequently provide intelligence services greater power and access when it comes to personal data, The New York Times reported over the weekend.
According to NYT, Philippe Goujon, a French politician behind the recent encryption proposals, said: “When we’re able to recover a cellphone but authorities have no way of accessing its data, it obviously cripples the work of our surveillance agencies. Sure, this could have repercussions internationally,” he added. “But there are other countries in the world that have similar legislation.”
This week, politicians in France will consider passing tougher antiterrorism laws that may leave tech executives with prison sentences or hefty fines if they refuse to deliver encrypted data to the country’s investigators.
“Fundamental rights are just that, fundamental,” Nico van Eijk, a data protection expert at the University of Amsterdam, told NYT. “Of course, there are exceptions for national security reasons. But governments have to be pragmatic.”