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Government Drops Another Demand For Apple's Help With Unlocking An iPhone

The U.S. Justice Department has again found a way to access a locked iPhone without Apple's help, so investigators can access data involved in a court case.

As it did in the San Bernardino terrorist case, the U.S. Justice Department has found another way to get through an Apple iPhone's passcode so it can access data on the device.

This time someone has assisted investigators in a drug case in Brooklyn, N.Y. This is what the Justice Department told the court late on Friday:

"Yesterday evening, an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone at issue in this case. Late last night, the government used that passcode by hand and gained access to the iPhone. Accordingly, the government no longer needs Apple's assistance to unlock the iPhone, and withdraws its application."

Apple has resisted any demands, saying if it needs to create new software to get past a device's security measures, that will create vulnerabilities for all iPhones, and giving any help could create a precedent for the government to make such demands again.

Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce says:

"As we have said previously, these cases have 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. In this case, an individual provided the department with the passcode to the locked phone at issue in the Eastern District of New York. ... This is an ongoing investigation and therefore we are not revealing the identity of the individual."

NPR's Aarti Shahani and Alina Selyukh have written about how a third party brought the FBI a way to bypass security in the San Bernardino phone, and they report the government asked for different kinds of help in the two cases.

"A comparison between the New York and the San Bernardino case isn't, well, apples to apples. The cases involve different types of iPhones that run different types of operating systems and require different types of technical assistance from the company.

"After the FBI said it had unlocked — without Apple's help — the iPhone 5C running iOS 9 in the San Bernardino investigation, the bureau's ability to reuse its undisclosed unlocking method on other phones has been a major lingering question.

"FBI Director James Comey said this week that the method, in fact, does not work on every iPhone. Specifically, he said it wouldn't work on the newer versions of the device, such as the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6. The case in New York involves an iPhone 5S running the iOS 7 operating system, which has older encryption technology.

"The government says that for the New York phone, Apple already has the ability, in-house, to unlock that kind of device with that kind of operating system. And it's the kind of process that wouldn't require the company to write any new, special code that would undermine the phone's security features as in the San Bernardino case."

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