Lawsuit Against Family Of Florida Teen Will Be Dropped If Agreement Is Reached Over Extracting Information From iPhone

A lawsuit filed in a Palm Beach County, Florida, courthouse, seeking to obstruct the return of an iPhone to one of the teens who disappeared during a boating excursion, may be dropped soon if both families can reach a consensus and allow a forensics investigation to go ahead and reveal the information on the phone.

As People reports, the boys, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, had set out with their boat off Florida's Jupiter Inlet, but during a storm the boys lost contact with their families and were never heard from again. Dozens of search parties combed the deep blue sea where the teenagers had vanished, but came up with nothing. Eight months later, a Norwegian freighter found their 19-foot Seacraft boat turned over and floating in a shipping channel, 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda.

Personal effects belonging to the boys, including Stephanos' iPhone, were discovered in the boat compartment and sent back to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. State investigators stepped in, saying that since the disappearance of the teens was not deemed a criminal case, the items in their possessions needed to be returned to their respective families.

The Cohen family has speedily challenged this decision, asking for all possessions, particularly Stephanos' iPhone, to be taken to law enforcement for a full-blown forensics investigation. Pamela Cohen filed a lawsuit Monday against Austin Stephanos' father Blu and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, asking that the iPhone not be returned until investigations have been carried out.

The Cohens are arguing that their son, Perry, did not have a functioning phone and so was using his friend Austin's phone to send messages to the family. This issue is similar to the issues raised when law enforcement agencies fought to retrieve data from the iPhones of the San Bernardino shooters last December.

The complaint reads, in part, "the "plaintiff believes the information on Austin's iPhone must be collected by technology experts who have the expertise required to extract such data without necessary risks of losing such information inadvertently or due to inexperience in such highly technical is well known that multiple attempts at entering a security pass code on an iPhone will result in the destruction of information on the iPhone."


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The Cohen family asked the Stephanos family to support their quest, allowing the phone to be accessed with all data extracted and analyzed including photos, GPS location information, and text messages. Blu Stephanos has countered by saying that the family were already working with freelance independent IT specialists and Apple manufacturers to get the phone working again and would share any valuable information with the Cohen family and relevant authorities.

The lawsuit reached a quick resolution, with the Cohen family accepting the offer of Blu Stephanos to share contents on the phone with them. In a written statement Tuesday, Pamela Cohen said they would be withdrawing their lawsuit as soon as a consensus was reached to place the iPhone in the hands of a neutral extraction expert, the best one available.

Cohen's attorney, Guy Bennett Rubin, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that his clients were willing to drop the case.

"They have signed a consent and they've asked the other family to sign the exact same consent, as soon as we receive those contents, we will drop the case. We have no interest in litigation anything. Our only interest is in getting as much information as there is to find out what happened."
Rubin filed an emergency hearing motion with the Palm Beach County Court with regard to the lawsuit. Judge Gregory M. Keyser will pronounce final judgment.

Do you think the family of the boy who lost his iPhone at sea should get it back, or should it go to law enforcement?

[Image via Shutterstock/BMJ]