Crime & Justice

FBI hacks gunman's iPhone, ends court case against Apple

The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The official seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen on an iPhone's camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The FBI says it successfully used a mysterious technique without Apple's help to break into an iPhone linked to the gunman in a California mass shooting.

The surprise development effectively ends a pitched court battle between Apple and the Obama administration.

The government told a federal court Monday without any details that it accessed data on gunman Syed Farook's iPhone and no longer requires Apple's assistance. Farook and his wife died in a gun battle with police after killing 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in December.

Apple did not immediately comment on the development.

A U.S. magistrate last month ordered Apple to provide the FBI with software to help it hack into Farook's work-issued iPhone. The order touched off a debate pitting digital privacy rights against national security concerns.

The U.S. Attorney's office  issued a press release with the following statement:

"The government has asked a United States Magistrate Judge in Riverside, California to vacate her order compelling Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone that was used by one of the terrorists who murdered 14 innocent Americans in San Bernardino on December 2nd of last year. Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone.

"We sought an order compelling Apple to help unlock the phone to fulfill a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting – that we will not rest until we have fully pursued every investigative lead related to the vicious attack. Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack. The San Bernardino victims deserve nothing less."