What you need to know
- A report suggests Apple abandoned plans to fully encrypt backups of user devices in iCloud.
- It is claimed the FBI complained that it would harm investigations.
- More than two years ago Apple told the FBI of its plans, primarily designed to thwart hackers.
A report suggests that Apple may have abandoned plans to fully encrypt backups of user devices in iCloud after the FBI complained it would hinder investigations.
More than two years ago, Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud, according to one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee.
Under that plan, primarily designed to thwart hackers, Apple would no longer have a key to unlock the encrypted data, meaning it would not be able to turn material over to authorities in a readable form even under court order.
In private talks with Apple soon after, representatives of the FBI's cyber crime agents and its operational technology division objected to the plan, arguing it would deny them the most effective means for gaining evidence against iPhone-using suspects, the government sources said.
When Apple spoke privately to the FBI about its work on phone security the following year, the end-to-end encryption plan had been dropped, according to the six sources. Reuters could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.
A former Apple employee told Reuters that "Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine", claiming that Apple did not want to risk public attacks for protecting criminals, or being sued for making previously available data inaccessible to law enforcement.
The report claims that two FBI officials said that Apple was "convinced" by the FBI's argument that backups provided "vital evidence in thousands of cases", they also suggested that away from the San Bernardino incident, the two got on quite well. A former Apple employee did, however, suggest that it is possible that Apple might have dropped the initiative for other reasons, such as the prospect of customers locking themselves out of their own data.
May be true, or part of the truth, but I heard at the time (and have repeated often since) that the main reason backups aren’t E2E encrypted is that, for most people, losing access to data is a much higher risk than having data stolen or subpoenaed.https://t.co/u9c92pyqwd— Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie) January 21, 2020
According to the report:
Once the decision was made, the 10 or so experts on the Apple encryption project - variously code-named Plesio and KeyDrop - were told to stop working on the effort, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The news comes in wake of another public disagreement between Apple and the FBI over the handling of two iPhones used by the gunman in the Pensacola Naval Base shooting. Away from that disagreement, the news seems to suggest that Apple and the FBI are perhaps on far more agreeable terms than has been portrayed by the media of late.
A recently published Apple transparency report showed that Apple complied with around 90% of requests from law enforcement agencies for device backups and iCloud content.
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