WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials said on Thursday that they are hopeful they will be able to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters without help from Apple Inc, but said the national debate over privacy and encryption must still be resolved.
Apple has been fighting a court order obtained last month requiring the tech giant to write new software and take other measures to disable passcode protection and allow access to the phone. U.S. prosecutors said on Monday that a third party had presented a possible method for opening the phone.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a news conference on Thursday that the Justice Department is "trying to exhaust all investigative tools" to gain information on the San Bernardino attackers, including by using techniques offered by third parties.
FBI Director James Comey said many people across the globe came forward after the litigation became public to offer potential ideas for how to open the phone without Apple's help.
"It looks like we now have one that may work," Comey said at the news conference.
At issue is a county-owned iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the husband-and-wife shooters in the San Bernardino shooting in December, in which 14 people were killed and 22 wounded. The couple died in a shootout with police after the rampage.
Lynch said she was hopeful the technique would work but said she was not yet sure whether it would be a viable way of obtaining evidence from the phone.
"It has always been our goal to extract the information that may be on that phone and determine what information or evidence it may give us about this deadly attack," she said.
"At this point, it's really too early to say how that's going to work out," she added.
Still, Comey noted that despite whether the outside assistance can help officials crack the phone, larger issues over government access and privacy remain.
"San Bernardino ... is about that investigation. And even if this particular technique makes that go away, that litigation, we still have to as a country resolve this conflict," he told reporters.
Reporting by Megan Cassella; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards, Dustin Volz and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry