The standoff between US law enforcement and Apple came to a sudden conclusion, but the debate between government and the tech industry about user privacy and security is far from over.
The Department of Justice is now asking a federal judge in California court to withdraw its petition to force Apple to help it hack an iPhone, after the FBI claimed it had successfully accessed data on the device. The smartphone in question belonged to one of the shooters in a mass killing in San Bernardino.
The company has dug in its heels about co-operating with the government, citing the wider implications for user privacy.
A court hearing was postponed last week after the FBI said an unidentified third party had stepped forward offering to find a back door into the smartphone. The mystery help was reported as being Israeli security firm Cellebrite.
Whether as a result of the Israeli firm’s involvement or not, the FBI seems to have got what it wanted.
Apple, however, remained defiant. “From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred,” it said in a statement.
It is unclear if the FBI will re-use the same technique again with other phones in other investigations, or indeed if the method itself is transferrable.
Generally speaking, leading tech firms sided with Apple throughout the controversy, arguing that government pressure to bypass user security should be resisted.
And last week Tim Cook said it was time for the US to define, as a nation, how much “data the government should have access to”. This is a debate that is unlikely to go away anytime soon.