FBI Accesses Terrorist’s Phone without Apple’s Help

March 31, 2016

Last month, the FBI and Apple became entangled in a legal battle that many assumed would rage for months. The conflict centered on an iPhone owned by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino mass shooting. While the FBI accessed most of the device’s data through the cloud, the government claimed a security system installed on the phone prevented them for obtaining the rest of its information. Apple refused to help the feds bypass the security feature, however, claiming this would set a dangerous precedent that could compromise its’ customers privacy.

After Apple’s refusal, the tech giant soon became embroiled in a tense war of words with the government both in court and the media. The stage seemed set for the prolonged legal conflict that almost all experts anticipated. Then on Monday, March 28, the FBI announced that they gained access to the terrorist’s phone without Apple’s assistance. The government withdrew its suit against the company, bringing a premature ending to the lengthy legal clash that many expected.

Of course, just because this one case has closed doesn’t mean the overall issue is resolved. The FBI is still pursuing a number of cases that differ from this famous one only in their notoriety. For instance, a New York judge recently rejected a government request for Apple to retrieve data from a drug dealer’s smartphone. What’s more, no one knows how the FBI broke through the San Bernardino phone’s defenses or if they can use the same method on other devices. One anonymous government official claims they received outside help from a tech company that is not affiliated with Apple. This fact must be especially alarming for the iPhone maker, who said in a statement that it would “continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated.”



  1. Should the FBI disclose to Apple how they accessed the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone? Should they also inform the general public?
  1. Did Apple make a marketing mistake by refusing to help the FBI?



Source: Katie Benner and Eric Lichtblau, “U.S. Says It Has Unlocked iPhone Without Apple,” The New York Times, March 28, 2016. Photo by Gabriele Barni.