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FBI able to hack San Bernardino phone; Apple case to be dropped

WASHINGTON-- Law enforcement sources confirm to CBS News' Jeff Pegues that the FBI has been able toget into the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

The Justice Department said in a statement it has asked a California judge to vacate her order compelling Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking the iPhone used by Farook who, with his wife Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 at a holiday luncheon attended by many of his work colleagues on Dec. 2.

Federal judge in N.Y. says FBI cannot force Apple to unlock iPhone

The surprise development effectively ends a pitched court battle between Apple and the Obama administration.

"Our decision to conclude the litigation was based solely on the fact that, with the recent assistance of a third party, we are now able to unlock that iPhone without compromising any information on the phone," the DOJ statement said. "We sought an order compelling Apple to help unlock the phone to fulfill a solemn commitment to the victims of the San Bernardino shooting - that we will not rest until we have fully pursued every investigative lead related to the vicious attack."

CBS News justice reporter Paula Reid reports that the DOJ will not disclose to Apple, or the public, the identity of the third party that helped them get the data off the phone. It will also not disclose whether it was even done in the U.S.

But the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, citing "experts in the field familiar with the case," says the company involved is Israel-based Cellebrite, which it says is "considered one of the leading companies in the world in the field of digital forensics, (and) has been working with the world's biggest intelligence, defense and law enforcement authorities for many years.

"The company provides the FBI with decryption technology as part of a contract signed with the bureau in 2013. Cellebrite's technology is able to extract valuable information from cellular devices that could be used in criminal and intelligence investigations, even if the phone and the information it contains are locked and secure."

Cellebrite hasn't commented on the report.

Apple released a statement Monday night saying that from the beginning, they have objected to the FBI's demand that they build a backdoor into the iPhone, because they believed it was a "dangerous precedent."

"This case should never have been brought. We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated," the statement read.

FBI may have found way to unlock San Bernardino shooter's phone

In a stunning disclosure last week, federal authorities had said that they might have found a way to unlock the iPhone used by Farook.

In a filing, federal prosecutors asked to delay a much-anticipated court hearing set for last Tuesday over the FBI's demand for Apple to help unlock Farook's encrypted phone. An "an outside party" came forward over the weekend and showed the FBI a possible method for unlocking the phone, according to the filing.

Authorities needed time to determine "whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data" on the phone. If viable, "it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple," according to the filing.

The FBI has said the couple was inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Investigators still are trying to piece together what happened and find out if there were collaborators.

The couple destroyed other phones they left behind and the FBI had been unable to circumvent the passcode needed to unlock the iPhone, which is owned by San Bernardino County and was given to Farook for his job.

Apple said the government was seeking "dangerous power" that exceeded the authority of the All Writs Act of 1789 it cited and violated the company's constitutional rights, harmed the Apple brand and threatened the trust of its customers to protect their privacy. The 18th-century law has been used on other cases to require third parties to help law enforcement in investigations.

Apple vs. the FBI on Capitol Hill

The company said the order was unreasonably burdensome. Once created, the company warned it would be asked to repeatedly design such software for use by authorities at home and abroad, and the technology could fall into the hands of hackers.

The government had countered that Apple could create the software for one phone, retain it during the process to protect itself, then destroy it. Apple said that creating software is a form of speech and being forced to do so violates its First Amendment rights.

Both sides had mounted aggressive public relations campaigns to present their side and rhetoric at times was charged.

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