Apple-FBI legal standoff averted as FBI hacks gunman's iPhone on its own

A legal standoff between Apple and the FBI has been averted.

A legal standoff between Apple and the FBI has been averted after the US Department of Justice successfully gained access to encrypted data on gunman Rizwan Farook's iPhone on its own.

The US government took successful legal action in a bid to force Apple to give it access to the San Bernadino killer's handset. Apple had an appeal pending.

In a bare-bones, two paragraph update to a California District Court, an Assistant US Attorney wrote:

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

Accordingly, the government requests that the order compelling Apple Inc to Assist Agents in Search dated February 16, 2016 be vacated. 

And that's it. It's not clear if US authorities somehow managed to access the encrypted data, or there was was a more low-tech breakthrough (Twitter wags guessed Farook's PIN turned out to be 1234).

A new fight now looms.

“From a legal standpoint, what happened in the San Bernardino case doesn’t mean the fight is over,” American Civil Liberties Union staff lawyer Esha Bhandari told the New York Times. She noted that the government generally goes through a process whereby it decides whether to disclose information about certain vulnerabilities so that manufacturers can patch them.

“I would hope they would give that information to Apple so that it can patch any weaknesses,” she said. "But if the government classifies the tool, that suggests it may not.”

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