US still wants Apple's help to access iPhone in Brooklyn case

The government's push for an appeal comes in spite of successfully breaking into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

The US government is pushing ahead with a demand that Apple access an iPhone belonging to a drug dealer in Brooklyn, New York.

In a letter filed with the court on Friday, prosecutors said the case is "not moot," despite successfully breaking into an iPhone earlier this year used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California terrorist attack.

US Attorney Robert Capers said that the government "continues to require Apple's assistance in accessing the data" on the phone.

Prosecutors said in the court filing that it will push for the appeal because Apple had previously helped the government gain access to dozens of other cases, prior to the release of iOS 8, which shut out law enforcement altogether.

The Brooklyn case was a near carbon copy of the highly charged and politicized case in California, after the terrorist attack killed 14 people in early December.

But the government eventually dropped its case against Apple, which refused to help federal agents break into the phone, after it found an found an "outside party."

That outside party is thought to be (but never formally confirmed) as Israeli security firm Cellebrite, which was able to bypass the security features embedded in the phone.

The hack used, however, only works on a "narrow slice" of iPhones, according to FBI director James Comey, who spoke about the case at a college this week, and will not work on an iPhone 5s used by the Brooklyn drug dealer Jun Feng, prosecutors said.

Apple won the case in February after the New York-based magistrate said that the government's use of a 227-year-old law would not apply in the case.

Judge James Orenstein, who is presiding over the case, said that Apple is not obligated to assist the government against its will because lawmakers have not yet adopted legislation that would achieve the result sought by the government.

The All Writs Act is designed to gives a court the "authority to issue [orders] that are not otherwise covered by statute," so long as the request is not impossible.

We reached out to Apple but did not immediately hear back.

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