clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Apple Seeks Delay in NYC iPhone Case Until FBI Tests New Unlocking Method

Apple seeks a brief pause to determine whether the FBI's new technique for unlocking the phone will work in New York.

Bryan Thomas / Getty

Apple says the government’s new approach for unlocking the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers may eliminate the need for the company’s help in a similar case in New York.

The company on Thursday asked a federal judge in Brooklyn for a pause in the case to determine whether this technique, proposed by an unidentified third party, might also give law enforcement access to the iPhone used in a New York drug trafficking case.

It won’t be clear until April 5, when the Justice Department provides an update on the San Bernardino case, whether this new method worked. So Apple argues there’s no harm in waiting a couple of weeks — especially since the central figure in the New York case, Jun Feng, pleaded guilty to narcotics conspiracy.

“In the interim, both the court and the parties lack sufficient information to determine the most appropriate way for the matter to proceed,” wrote Marc Zwillinger, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Apple. “Going forward without such information would be highly inefficient.”

The government has until March 29 to respond.

Both cases hinge on the same question: Whether the courts can use the venerable All Writs Act to order a third party — in this case Apple — to bypass the security on its devices against its will to further a government investigation.

In the New York case, the government is asking for help unlocking an iPhone 5s using an older mobile operating system, iOS 7, arguing it has done so in the past. In San Bernardino, federal investigators are asking for the kind of technical intervention that Apple describes as unprecedented — that it create software that would defeat the more sophisticated security features of the iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook.

On Monday, the government filed court documents saying it needed time to evaluate a new approach for accessing Farook’s phone, and asked the court to cancel a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, which it did.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.