Court Stays Order Directing Apple to Help FBI

A California U.S. District Court will not compel Apple to help the FBI help the FBI hack the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, at least for now.

The court late Monday (March 21) stayed its order compelling that aid after the government requested it cancel hearing and reportedly signaled it might be able to get at the info without Apple's help.

"There is presently uncertainty surrounding the government’s need for Apple’s assistance," the court said. Given that, it said, it was staying its Feb. 16 order, pending further submissions in the case, that had compelled Apple to help.

The government has to update the court on the status of its efforts by April 5.

"With the FBI backing down on this case, this is at least a short-term win for Apple. It is not uncommon for hearings in civil cases to be postponed on short notice," said Lisa Hayes, VP at the Center for Democracy and Technology, which had filed an amicus brief with the court in support of Apple. "This has always been a case about the government attempting to mandate technological backdoors that would make all Americans less secure. We're glad to see the court take this step."

Digital rights group Fight for the Future said that it and supporters from the ACLU and other groups will still gather outside of the courthouse in Riverside, Calif., Tuesday to discuss the development, but the decision clearly takes the steam out of its planned protest.

"“The FBI might be running away from their own hearing, but we’re not,” said Jeff Lyon, CTO at Fight for the Future.

“We’ll still be outside the courthouse to make sure those people’s voices are heard, because this fight is far from over."

The groups had collected over 20,000 comments from Internet users supporting Apple and opposing government encryption back doors. The FBI had suggested they didn't want Apple to build a back door, just keep the slathering guard dog at the front door at bay while they tried to pick the lock.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.