FBI to test 'outside party' hack on terror attack iPhone

Apple may not be forced to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of a terror suspect after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked for a delay on a court hearing so it could test a hack on the phone supplied by an "outside party".

The request from the DOJ came just hours after Apple chief Tim Cook had used a product launch at the company's headquarters to reiterate the firm's stance that rewriting its software so encrypted parts of it could be accessed by authorities violated customer privacy.

Having previously called the US government's request a "dangerous precedent", Mr Cook opened his keynote speech at the unveiling of the iPhone SE and new iPad Pro by saying that the company "would not shrink from its responsibility" over protecting the data of its customers. 

"We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data," he added.

A stand-off in court was expected on Tuesday, with a hearing scheduled on the case, but that has now been postponed. 

In a filing late on Monday, federal prosecutors said "an outside party" came forward over the weekend and showed the FBI a possible method for unlocking the phone used by gunman Syed Farook in the December 2 terror attack in California.

The US authorities said they now 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.

A status report must now be filed by the government by April 5. 

Before unveiling the new 4-inch iPhone SE, Mr Cook also thanked the wider technology community for its support in the ongoing case.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are among the firms to back Apple's position on not helping the government break into the locked iPhone. 

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