Justice drops case against Apple after cracking iPhone in Brooklyn investigation

After receiving the passcode necessary to crack an iPhone owned by a confessed drug dealer, the Justice Department said it no longer needs Apple's help.
After receiving the passcode necessary to crack an iPhone owned by a confessed drug dealer, the Justice Department said it no longer needs Apple's help.

Confirming for the second time in a month that it didn't need Apple's help in cracking an iPhone seized in an investigation, the Justice Department told a federal court that it was dropping its case against the tech giant after it received a passcode for the device from an unnamed source.

In a letter to the court, prosecutors said Apple it “no longer needs Apple's assistance” to get data off a phone belonging to a drug dealer Jun Feng who had entered a guilty plea in the case.

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initially requested Apple's help, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, known as a Fourth Amendment advocate, was troubled by what he thought could be the government exceeding the authority afforded by the All Writs Act of 1789, which it used liberally to justify its data access requests. Orenstein asked Apple to weigh in.

He ruled in February that Apple did not have to comply. 

In March, the Justice Department backed off of its efforts to get Apple to help crack an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, dropping the case after a third-party, later identified as Cellebrite, was able to crack the phone.

Privacy advocates and tech companies have contended that the Justice Department was trying to make a test case out of its pursuit of Apple, something that prosecutors have denied. After Justice filed to drop its initiative in the Brooklyn case, Reuters quoted agency spokeswoman Emily Pierce as saying the cases were "never been about setting a court precedent; they are about law enforcement's ability and need to access evidence on devices pursuant to lawful court orders and search warrants.”

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