Tuesday a federal judge canceled a hearing in the legal battle to force Apple to break into an encrypted iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino attackers, after federal officials said in a court filing they may have found another way to access the device.
In a filing late Monday, federal prosecutors said “an outside party” has come forward and shown the FBI a possible method for unlocking the phone used by one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 terror attack.
In a statement, U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said the government is “cautiously optimistic” that the possible method will work.
Newman added that the outside party demonstrated to the FBI this past weekend a possible method for unlocking the phone.
“We must first test this method to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the data on the phone, but we remain cautiously optimistic,” she said. “That is why we asked the court to give us some time to explore this option.”
If the method works, the government said in the filing “it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple.”
Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym on Monday granted the government’s request to delay the hearing, which had been set for Tuesday.
Federal officials will update the court with a status report by April 5 as to whether it will proceed with the suit, a law enforcement official told Fox News.
The law enforcement official would not elaborate on who the third party is, or what the new method might entail.
For more than a month, the government and Apple have waged a very public debate over whether breaking into one phone would jeopardize the security of all encrypted devices.
Prosecutors have argued that the phone used by Farook probably contains evidence of the Dec. 2 attack in which the county food inspector and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 at a holiday luncheon attended by many of his work colleagues. The two were killed in a police shootout hours later.
Last month, Pym ordered Apple to create software that would disable security features on the phone, including one that erases all the information if a passcode is incorrectly entered more than 10 times. That would allow the FBI to electronically run possible combinations to open the phone without losing data.
Apple said the government was seeking “dangerous power” that exceeds the authority of the All Writs Act of 1789 it cited and violates the company’s constitutional rights, harms the Apple brand and threatens the trust of its customers to protect their privacy. The 18th-century law has been used on other cases to require third parties to help law enforcement in investigations.
The company said the order is unreasonably burdensome. Once created, it would be asked to repeatedly design such software for use by authorities at home and abroad, and the technology could fall into the hands of hackers.
The government has countered that Apple could create the software for one phone, retain it during the process to protect itself, then destroy it. Apple has said that creating software is a form of speech and being forced to do so violates its First Amendment rights.
Other technology heavyweights, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo, along with civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, have supported one of the world’s largest technology companies.