FBI uses mystery method to break into gunman's iPhone; withdraws legal action

- 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.

Statement from FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich:

“The FBI cannot comment on the technical steps that were taken to obtain the contents of the county-issued iPhone, nor the identity of the third party that came forward as a result of the publicity generated by the court order.  During the past week, to include the weekend, extensive testing of the iPhone was done by highly skilled personnel to ensure that the contents of the phone would remain intact once technical methods were applied.  The full exploitation of the phone and follow-up investigative steps are continuing.  My law enforcement partners and I made a commitment to the victims of the 12/2 attack in San Bernardino and to the American people that no stone would be left unturned in this case.   We promised to explore every investigative avenue in order to learn whether the San Bernardino suspects were working with others, were targeting others, or whether or not  they were supported by others.  While we continue to explore the contents of the iPhone and other evidence, these questions may not be fully resolved, but I am satisfied that we have access to more answers than we did before and that the investigative process is moving forward.”

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