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FBI-Apple Showdown Delayed as Feds Pursue Unlock Lead

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge postponed the highly anticipated face-off between the FBI and Apple on Monday after the government said it may be able to unlock one of the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone without the tech giant's help.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sherri Pym has granted the government's request to delay the March 22 hearing.

Last month, Pym ordered Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance" to FBI technicians working on Syed Farook's iPhone 5C.

Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 after opening fire at a holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2.

In court papers filed Monday, the government said that it is testing a method to unlock the phone without the Apple's assistance after "an outside party" showed investigators another method on Sunday.

"Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook's iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple," the filing states.

In a statement, Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said the "top priority" is to unlock the iPhone 5c.

"With this goal in mind, the FBI has continued in its efforts to gain access to the phone without Apple's assistance, even during a month-long period of litigation with the company," Newman wrote. "As a result of these efforts, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI this past weekend a possible method for unlocking the phone."

Newman said the FBI is "cautiously optimistic" that it can break the passcode on the Farook's iPhone.

"That is why we asked the court to give us some time to explore this option. If this solution works, it will allow us to search the phone and continue our investigation into the terrorist attack that killed 14 people and wounded 22 people," Newman said.

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