Feds Get Into iPhone in NY Case, Ending Active Apple Litigation

PHOTO: A shopper compares a new iPhone SE, right, with an iPhone 6s in the Apple store in Grand Central Terminal in New York on Friday, April 1, 2016. PlayRichard B. Levine/Newscom
WATCH FBI Paid More Than $1 Million to Hack San Bernardino Shooter's iPhone

The government has been able to unlock another iPhone that has been the subject of ongoing litigation with Apple, according to the Justice Department, which filed a letter in federal court on Friday night in the Eastern District of New York.

In this case, however, the government did not pay more than $1 million to a third party for a hack. In this case, someone simply provided the passcode.

On Thursday evening, "an individual provided the passcode to the iPhone at issue in this case," according to the letter from U.S. Attorney Robert Capers. "Late last night, the government used that passcode by hand and gained access to the iPhone. Accordingly, the government no longer needs Apple’s assistance to unlock the iPhone, and withdraws its application."

The government's efforts to compel Apple to assist investigators to unlock an iPhone had been rejected by a federal magistrate judge. The case was under appeal.

The device in question was an iPhone 5 that was part of a DEA investigation.

The defendant in the DEA case, Jun Feng, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine weeks after the government asked a court to order Apple to help open the phone. Until it dropped the case Friday night, the Justice Department had continued to press the case to compel Apple to assist, citing an ongoing investigation.

"As we have said previously, these cases have never been about setting a court precedent; they are about law enforcement’s ability and need to access evidence on devices pursuant to lawful court orders and search warrants," Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement. "In this case, an individual provided the department with the passcode to the locked phone at issue in the Eastern District of New York. Because we now have access to the data we sought, we notified the court of this recent development and have withdrawn our request for assistance. This is an ongoing investigation and therefore we are not revealing the identity of the individual.”

There are about a dozen other All Writs Act orders for Apple's assistance with opening for other devices that are unresolved, but are not in active litigation, according to a Justice Department official.

FBI Director James Comey hinted earlier this week that the price tag for help hacking into the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters was more than $1 million.

The iPhone 5c used by Syed Farook did not contain any identities of suspected co-conspirators or overseas contacts that investigators believe may be related to the attacks, law enforcement sources previously told ABC News.

One month after federal officials dropped their court case against Apple, the method to access the iPhone 5c and the identity of the third party who helped are still unknown. Comey said earlier this month the tool purchased from a private party and used to access Syed Farook's iPhone only works on a "narrow slice" of phones, such as the iPhone 5c running iOS 9.

Apple has been staunch in its position that creating a backdoor for government officials would undermine the security of millions of users.

ABC News' Alyssa Newcomb contributed to this report.