The U.S. Department of Justice moved to vacate a court order forcing Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) to cooperate in a high-profile investigation, saying it was finally able to unlock an iPhone without the company's help. But Apple's battles with federal prosecutors aren't likely to go away soon.
Prosecutors had previously won a decision requiring Apple to help access data on a locked iPhone belonging to one of the killers involved in December's mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. But Apple defied the order, with CEO Tim Cook going so far as to post an open letter explaining the company's position that doing so would threaten the security of its customers.
The Justice Department last week postponed a highly anticipated courtroom showdown, saying that "an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method" for unlocking the phone. That outside party was reported to be Cellebrite, an Israel-based firm that offers tools to break into locked devices.
"The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on (Syed) Farook's iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple Inc." mandated by the earlier court order, prosecutors said in a terse court filing.
But while the San Bernardino case has attracted an enormous amount of attention, it's far from the only legal battle Apple is engaged in with authorities over security and privacy concerns. Last month a New York judge rejected a request by the U.S. government to force the company to help extract data from a locked iPhone in a similar case. And Apple is fighting similar battles against federal prosecutors in at least nine other standoffs across the country.
It's unclear whether prosecutors and their allies have developed a "master key" that could be used to unlock any iPhone, or even any iOS device. Apple has long positioned its operating system as all but unhackable, and the company's shares dipped slightly following Monday's news.
Apple issued a statement reaffirming its position, saying "This case should have never been brought."
The government reportedly hasn't decided whether it will tell Apple engineers how it unlocked the phone. But given the ongoing cases elsewhere between Apple and law-enforcement authorities -- and given a deeply divided American public on the topic -- any resolution of the San Bernardino likely won't lead to an end of the bigger debate.
- see this Department of Justice motion
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