Recently unsealed court documents show Apple in February was ordered to assist the FBI in accessing an iPhone linked to a Boston court case, but the government has seemingly abandoned its pursuit as the ruling fell short of forcing Apple to bypass its own security.
In the Massachusetts case, the FBI pursued an All Writs Act motion to compel Apple to extract data from an iPhone 6 belonging to alleged Columbia Point Dawgz gang member Desmond Crawford.
While Federal Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler ordered the company to comply, the ruling’s language precludes Apple from bypassing the phone’s encryption. In a statement, Bowler wrote:
“Reasonable technical assistance consists of, to the extent possible, extracting data from the device, copying the data from the device onto an external hard drive or other storage medium and returning the aforementioned storage medium to law enforcement.”
Bowler continues by saying that Apple must provide FBI agents with any data extracted data from Crawford’s device. However, if the data is encrypted, Apple “is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.”
The case specifics were revealed on Friday after court documents were unsealed in response to an FOIA request from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Apple’s security system encrypts data with a secret key known only to the user, and without the appropriate passcode, device data cannot be decrypted. To prevent brute force attacks, Apple implemented a passcode counter which destroys the stored key after ten unsuccessful unlock attempts (if the user chooses to turn this feature on), making the data on the device unrecoverable.