Time needed to know if phone can be unlocked

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LOS ANGELES — It will take at least two weeks to know whether an alternate method will unlock an encrypted iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers, the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office said Tuesday, adding that federal investigators think they have “a good shot.”

Government officials were asked to file a status report in court about the alternate method by April 5 because that’s how long they think it will take to know if the method will unlock the phone without compromising the data it contains, said David Bowdich, an assistant FBI director in charge of the office in Los Angeles.

At the government’s request, a judge canceled a court hearing in the matter that had been set for Tuesday.

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The government was “very ready” to try to force Apple to help unlock the phone when a third party emerged with an alternate method Sunday, Bowdich said.

“For us to seek a continuance, we felt it was a good shot,” Bowdich said. “I’ll leave it there because we just don’t know.”

The publicity around the case generated a number of proposed solutions, but none was deemed potentially usable until Sunday’s demonstration, according to two law enforcement officials close to the case who are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The unexpected new method is going to be tested on other phones before it’s perfected — to avoid deleting the data on the target device, one of the law enforcement officials said.

One official said FBI Director James Comey testified in good faith about the FBI exhausting options to get into the iPhone, but investigators had not canvassed every possible option that could exist because of the urgency factor in terrorism investigations.