On Monday, just hours after Apple’s iPhone SE reveal, the U.S. Department of Justice moved to postpone its looming trial with the tech giant. In a surprising turn of events, court documents filed by the DoJ revealed an unnamed third party had potentially provided the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a way to access data stored on the iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino shooting, without the help of Apple.
A new report published by Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth claims CelleBrite, a tech firm that specializes in providing software for extracting data from mobile devices to governments, militaries and intelligence agencies, is the unnamed third party mentioned in the DoJ’s court filling. Citing unnamed sources with the encryption industry, the publication says the FBI won’t need Apple’s help to access the iPhone in question should CelleBrite prove successful in extracting the data found on the smartphone’s solid-state drive.
Both CelleBrite and the FBI have yet to confirm they’re working together to break open the phone. However, should Cellebrite prove successful, it likely means this particular battle between the FBI and Apple will come to quick close — at least for the time being.
That said, the question remains — why did the FBI not approach a firm like CelleBrite, or another federal agency like the National Security Agency, as soon it acquired the iPhone 5c used by the shooter in the San Bernardino attack? One strong possibility is that the U.S. government wanted to create a precedent where it could force other tech companies, not just Apple, to create backdoors to their products and services. However, both changing public opinion a recent court loss may have forced the FBI to reconsider its options.
In a similar case to the one California, a New York judge ruled the FBI could not use the All Writs Act to legally force Apple to help the agency break into an iPhone. This is the same law the FBI had called upon in its case against Apple in San Bernardino.