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FBI Might be Able to Unlock Shooter's Phone Without Apple

FILE - An Apple employee, right, demonstrates the fingerprint scanner technology built into the company's iPhone. The U.S. government says it may have a way to unlock an iPhone without Apple's help.

The U.S. government says it may have found a way to unlock the iPhone of one of the assailants in December's terror attack in San Bernardino, California, without the help of Apple.

The Justice Department said an "outside party'' came forward over the weekend and showed the FBI a possible method for unlocking the phone.

Lawyers for the Justice Department late Monday requested that Tuesday's hearing before a federal judge in California be canceled in order to allow time for testing the new method.

For more than a month, the government and Apple have waged a very public debate over how far technology companies must go in aiding criminal investigations.

Prosecutors have argued that the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook probably contains evidence of the attack in which he and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 at a holiday luncheon. The two were killed in a police shootout hours later.

The move appears to vindicate Apple's argument that the U.S. government has not exhausted all available means to recover information from the phone.

Apple also argued that the government's demands violated the company's constitutional rights, harmed the Apple brand and threatened the trust of its customers to protect their privacy.