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NEW YORK — Apple Inc. said it may not be needed to help unlock an iPhone connected to a drug case in New York if the government finds a way without its assistance to get into a phone used by the gunman in the December massacre in San Bernardino, Calif.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday that it was approached by an unidentified third party about a possible method to get into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone.

Apple has been fighting attempts to force it to unlock the drug dealer’s phone for months before the California case thrust the battle between the company and the government into the spotlight.


Apple on Thursday asked a federal judge in Brooklyn to delay a deadline for submissions in the case there, saying the government may not need its help if the same method the government is using in California can be used in New York. US District Judge Margo Brodie on Friday gave the government until March 29 to respond to Apple’s letter.

“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,” attorneys for Apple said in the letter.

The government is appealing a magistrate judge’s ruling from February that the company doesn’t have to cooperate with investigators in the Brooklyn iPhone case.

The government has sought Apple’s help because self-destruct features on newer iPhones wipe out data if prosecutors try “brute force” techniques to hack in. The contents of the drug dealer’s phone were not backed up to remote cloud storage, leaving the physical device as the only source of data, US officials said.

The company said any movement on the case should wait until after April 5, when the Justice Department is scheduled to report the status of its efforts to test its potential work-around in the San Bernardino case.


The technology in the cases differ. The dealer’s phone in Brooklyn uses iOS 7, an older form of operating system that Apple had routinely been able to hack using a secret process at its company headquarters.

The shooter’s phone used a newer operating system, designed to be more secure so that even Apple itself could not break into it.