Tech by VICE

The US Government Canceled Its Hearing with Apple Over iPhone Backdoor

The FBI and DOJ ask to back out at the eleventh hour, citing a potential alternative method for cracking the phone.

by Sarah Jeong
Mar 21 2016, 11:18pm

Image: Shutterstock

UPDATE: As of Monday at 4:30 PM PST, the hearing has been canceled. The headline has been modified to reflect this. We'll update this post with the court order.

For weeks, Apple and the FBI have been preparing for the March 22 court hearing in the battle over an iPhone in the San Bernardino shooting case. On Monday, less than 24 hours before the hearing, the Department of Justice has made a last minute request to cancel its day in court.

The government has been seeking to compel Apple to aid in executing a search warrant on Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone, which would require Apple to bypass its own built-in security by writing custom software for the FBI. The request turned into full-blown legal and public relations fight between the company and federal law enforcement, with national headlines, legislators slamming the FBI director in Congressional hearings, and cases pending on both coasts. The San Bernardino court date was set to be the big showdown, with three overflow rooms set aside for the influx of expected spectators.

But according to the DOJ, on Sunday, "an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook's iPhone." In other words, the FBI may not need Apple's help to get access to whatever information is on the phone.

The government says that further testing must be done to see whether "it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone," but that until this has been determined, the hearing should be canceled until further notice.

According to the government filing, the US Attorney contacted Apple's lawyers at 2:45 PM on Monday "to request Apple's position" on the motion to vacate the hearing. It's not yet known whether the hearing has been canceled.

Apple could not immediately be reached for comment.