Feds Succeed Without Apple in NYC IPhone Case

     BROOKLYN (CN) — A third party helped unlock the iPhone of a drug trafficker, the FBI revealed, just a day after estimating that cracking the unrelated San Bernadino terrorist’s device cost taxpayers $1 million.
     The FBI’s case in Brooklyn had largely played out in the shadows of its higher-profile efforts in California to unlock the iPhone 5 of Syed Farook, one of the terrorists behind the Dec. 2, 2016, shooting rampage in San Bernardino that left 14 dead and 22 others wounded.
     While the FBI sought Apple’s assistance under the All Writs Act, an 18th century law it has historically used for search warrants, Apple said it would have to write an entire new code to unlock the phone, an extraordinary relief not contemplated by the outdated statute.
     U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa embarrassed the government last month at a congressional hearing over the controversy by revealing FBI Director James Comey had little technical understanding of what it was the bureau wanted Apple to do.
     A former tech CEO himself, Issa inquired whether the FBI had asked Apple for its source code so bureau employees or contractors could take on the job of modifying it.
     “If you haven’t asked that question, the question is how can you come before this committee and a federal judge and demand that somebody else invent something, if you can’t answer the questions that your people have tried this?” Issa asked.
     Within a few weeks, the FBI announced that it accessed Farook’s phone and no longer needed Apple’s assistance in the case. Comey on Thursday revealed that the total cost of the work to the bureau had been $1.3 million.
     While the FBI seemed to have the court’s favor when it came to the California battle with Apple, a federal magistrate in New York was unwilling to grant the government relief in February.
     The New York case involves Queens resident Jun Feng, who pleaded guilty last year to a charge of conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine.
     Despite Feng’s plea, prosecutors told the court that they still needed his phone unlocked to catch co-conspirators.
     On Friday night, federal prosecutors wrote a one-paragraph memo to U.S. District Judge Margo Brodie, informing her that “the government no longer needs Apple’s assistance to unlock the iPhone.”
     “Yesterday evening, an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone,” the letter from U.S. Attorney Robert Capers states. “Late last night, the government used that passcode by hand and gained access to the iPhone.
     “Accordingly, the government no longer needs Apple’s assistance to unlock the iPhone, and withdraws its application,” Capers wrote.
     The pro-Apple order by U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in February noted that at least 12 similar cases are coursing through courts around the country.
     Orenstein noted that Apple’s recent resistance comes after helping in the government’s quests to unlock phones in at least 70 prior criminal cases.
     A representative for Apple declined to comment Monday morning.

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