Re: Interesting that this gets overlooked
Well it is interesting, but maybe not for the reasons you're thinking. Apple has helped them in the past, but as far as we know never by creating a custom version of iOS to bypass the device's built in protection. Apple has already provided them with data from the iCloud account associated with the phone, so they aren't taking a position of "screw you law enforcement, we're not going to provide any help at all". They just don't want to be put in a position where they are required to use their insider knowledge and special ability to sign iOS releases to hack a phone for the FBI.
Whether they wanted this filed under seal because they wanted to create the custom iOS for the FBI but not publicly, or because they wanted to fight it but not publicly (in case public opinion had turned out to be against them, this is after all an investigation into terrorism on US soil so I admit to be rather surprised by the level of support Apple is seeing) is unknown - but you can guess based on thinking about why the FBI refused to file under seal.
That's what's really interesting here. Why should the FBI want to take this public?! If they knew Apple would cooperate if the request was under seal, they would have happily compiled with Apple's request to file under seal. The only reason for them to make it public that I can see are: 1) they knew or assumed Apple was going to fight it if filed under seal so they wanted to take it public and see if Apple was willing to risk the negative publicity. 2) they chose this case quite deliberately because it lined up perfectly for their stated goal of requiring tech companies to make it easier to access encrypted communications - this is a domestic terrorist, not a suspect but one we know is guilty, and is recent in everyone's memory - it even occurred in Apple's home state!
I think the FBI wanted to make this a test case, figuring if they were ever going to win this battle this would be the case to take. That's why they refused to file it under seal. They assumed public opinion would be against Apple (and I have to admit when I first heard about, I thought the majority of the general public would be against them as well) which would illustrate the "need" for tech companies to be required to make it easier to access encrypted communications.
The FBI's goal now looks pretty tenuous from where I'm sitting. No matter what this judge says, the loser will appeal these rulings and it will reach the Supreme Court, so it won't reach a final decision quickly. But based on public sentiment trending strongly Apple's way, I think they've already lost the war before this battle has even begun.
Interestingly, Scalia's death leaving the court with only 8 justices complicates this matter a bit. If it reaches the Supreme Court before his seat is filled and the court is tied 4-4, that would mean the lower court's ruling would stand but it would NOT set a nationwide precedent like a majority decision would. So there's one reason why it is a bad idea to leave a seat vacant on the Supreme Court for over a year, which looks likely given the political battle that has ensued. The Supreme Court might choose to delay hearing the case until they're at full strength, which would mean the earliest a final decision would be reached is summer 2017 and quite possibly summer 2018!