It seems the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is backing out from a fight with Apple, but still arguing that it is no big deal for the company to help unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack.
On February 16, a federal judge ordered the giant tech company to assist the FBI in opening Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone.
In response, the Justice Department filed a motion seeking to force Apple to comply with the judge's order to unlock the encrypted iPhone, pushing back on the company's characterization of the request as a "back door" threatening the privacy of all iPhones.
FBI Director James Comey on Sunday night attempted to defend his agency's handling of the investigation into the San Bernardino shooting.
"We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it," Comey said in a statement.
"We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land," Comey insisted. "I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that."
Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were shot dead in a shootout with police hours after the massacre in a Department of Public Health training event and holiday party on December 2, 2015, which left 14 dead and 22 injured.
A senior Apple executive, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Friday that the US Congress is the right place for a debate over encryption not a courtroom.
The intensifying battle between the US government and America’s most valuable company has spread to the race for president, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump calling for a public boycott of Apple until it complied with the order.
Apple has argued that helping crack the phone in question would lead to less secure iPhones for all customers and that current law does not force the company to comply.
The Justice Department framed Apple’s refusal to comply as a "marketing strategy."
FBI experts fear losing the data on the phone after several failed attempts to enter the password, arguing only Apple can solve the problem.
A federal court hearing on the issue has been scheduled for March 22 in California.