FBI successfully accesses San Bernardino attacker's iPhone without Apple's help

The US Justice Department has asked for a court to withdraw an order compelling Apple to assist them

The FBI has successfully accessed data stored on an encrypted iPhone used by one of the gunmen involved in the San Bernardino mass shooting.

Following the breakthrough the US Justice Department asked a court to withdraw an order compelling Apple to assist them, according to a court filing on Monday.

Until last week, the government insisted it had no way to access the phone used by one of the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, saying it would need to force Apple to write new software to be able to disable the phone's password protection.

Apple fought an order obtained by the FBI last month, requiring the company to write new software, sparking an increasingly contentious debate surrounding digital privacy rights and national security interests.

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot 14 people dead in a massacre in San Bernardino, California after opening fire at a conference centre on 2 December where Farook's firm were holding a party.

The couple fled in a car but were chased and killed by police in a shoot-out.

Home-made bombs were found at the scene of the rampage and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 12 pipe bombs and equipment to make more were discovered at the home they shared with their baby daughter.

In a two-page court filing the Justice Department said the government “no longer requires” Apple's aid and asked a federal magistrate in Riverside, California to withdraw the order forcing Apple to assist.

Apple has not immediately commented on the news, but had argued the government request would create a “back door” to phones that could be abused by criminals and governments.  

Apple received support from tech industry leaders such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft. More than 24 other companies filed legal briefs supporting Apple.

The Justice Department received support from law enforcement groups and six relatives of the San Bernardino victims.

Eileen Decker, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, said in a statement on Monday that the government's request to Apple was part of a "solemn commitment" to the victims.

She said: “Although this step in the investigation is now complete, we will continue to explore every lead, and seek any appropriate legal process, to ensure our investigation collects all of the evidence related to this terrorist attack”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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