Lawyers for Apple are asking a federal judge in New York to delay proceedings in a court fight over access to an iPhone seized from a drug dealer in Queens, citing the ongoing battle over an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.
A judge in Brooklyn last month denied the FBI's request to force Apple to open the New York phone, but the Justice Department has appealed that ruling.
Since then, the FBI disclosed that it may have found a way to open the San Bernardino phone without Apple's help. Because of that development, Apple's lawyers are asking for a delay in the New York case.
On Monday, the FBI notified the judge in San Bernardino that an "outside party" suggested a method for unlocking an iPhone left behind by Syed Farook. On Thursday, FBI Director James Comey said while many such ideas had been proposed before, "It looks like we now have one that may work out, and we'll see."
After the new idea was suggested, Comey said, "We tried it on Sunday. It looked like it might work."
The FBI said it would notify the San Bernardino judge by April 5 whether the new idea works. The goal is to unlock Farook's iPhone without destroying any of the data stored on the device.
The FBI said in previous court filings that because no other alternative would work, Apple should be ordered to disable three of the iPhone's security features so that an FBI computer could feed in various four-digit passcodes until it entered the correct one to unlock the phone.
Given these developments, Apple's lawyers said in a filing in Brooklyn late Thursday, it may no longer be the case that only Apple can open the drug dealer's phone.
The New York iPhone was running an older operating system, iOS 7, while the San Bernadino phone ran iOS 9. But, the lawyers say, "if that same method can be used to unlock the iPhone in this case, it would eliminate the need for Apple's assistance."
Comey declined Thursday to say whether the FBI would inform Apple of how the newly offered technique works, if it proves effective. But Apple's lawyers said they will try to find out if the government claims it would not work on the New York phone.
"If the DOJ claims that the method will not work on the iPhone here, Apple will seek to test that claim, as well as any claims by the government that other methods cannot be used."
In light of "the public importance of this issue," the company lawyers asked the New York judge to delay further legal filings until after the FBI reports on whether the newly suggested method will work on Farook's phone.
The judge ordered a response by March 29 from the Justice Department to Apple's latest request.