Hours before Apple and the government were scheduled to face off in the courtroom, the Justice Department asked the judge to postpone the hearing. The DOJ said on Monday that it believed it had found a way to unlock the phone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook without the assistance of Apple.
Apparently, “an outside party” has produced “a possible method for unlocking the iPhone,” and the FBI is required to provide an update by April 5th.
All in all, the court filing from the DOJ was relatively vague, refusing to name the “outside party” in question or provide any details about the potential unlocking method. It’s possible that we won’t know anything definitive until next month, but Paresh Dave has offered up a few interesting theories in a piece for the LA Times.
One of the more plausible theories is that the FBI is finally going to follow the advice of the ACLU and remove the chip from the circuit board, copy the phone’s flash memory, replace the chip and test passwords to see if the auto-erase feature has been turned on. Even if it has, the bureau can simply copy the data to another chip and try again.
There’s also a chance that Apple found a loophole itself and decided to work directly with the FBI. As Dave explains, if Apple could work with the FBI outside of the case, it could ensure that no legal precedent is set.
The most conspiratorial theory that Dave provided involves the FBI bluffing to let the heat die down. Although Americans appear to be relatively spilt on the issue of unlocking the iPhone of a terrorist, privacy advocates have been vocal about their discomfort with the idea of the government getting its hands on a skeleton key for our smartphones. Perhaps the FBI simply wants more time to sway public opinion in its favor? Or just let everyone forget the case is even happening?