WASHINGTON — A furious legal battle over digital privacy in the age of the iPhone ended on Monday with no clear winner — only lingering questions over what will happen the next time the government tries to force Apple to help break into one of its own phones.
The Justice Department on Monday announced that it had gotten what it wanted most immediately in the case of the San Bernardino terrorist attack: a way to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters to determine what evidence it might hold, even without Apple’s assistance.
But that development forestalls a court ruling on the bigger legal questions that have been so hotly debated since the case erupted last month when a judge in California ordered Apple to unlock the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook.
The legal debate in that state offered what many legal analysts saw as a powerful test case for the Justice Department to establish its position. But that verdict will now have to wait for another day.
“This might be a missed opportunity for the Justice Department,” said Eric Berg, a former federal prosecutor who now works on electronic surveillance cases at a private practice in Milwaukee. “Having this whole debate muted by this solution is probably a little bit disappointing for them.”