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New report suggests Apple gets along with the FBI better than you think

New report suggests Apple gets along with the FBI better than you think
Apple is at the center of yet another heated debate over iPhone data encryption as it continues to do a tricky balancing act between protecting user privacy and helping US law enforcement easily obtain information on persons of interest involved in high-profile crimes, but the company reportedly considered a shift in its policy not that long ago which would have made its stance crystal clear once and for all.

Not only that, but the Cupertino-based tech giant would have made the subpoenas, court orders, and informal government requests for data it sometimes resists (and many times not) pretty much pointless if end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups ultimately became a reality. That obviously never happened and it's unlikely to materialize anytime soon either after Apple essentially asked for the FBI's blessing to make the change, and unsurprisingly, no agreement was reached.

All this behind-the-scenes work went down a couple of years back, according to no less than six unnamed sources "familiar with the matter" quoted by Reuters, but today is the very first time we're hearing whispers of Apple's cancelled plans.

The FBI convinced Apple to drop end-to-end encryption


Before we get into the meat of this interesting new report, we should probably explain how end-to-end encryption works. The technology has been popularized in the last few years by WhatsApp, Telegram, and other instant messaging apps that use it to ensure all communication done on their platforms stays between the sender and recipient. 

At least in theory, no one should be able to intercept or decrypt these exchanges of information, which makes it pretty obvious why the FBI was reluctant to allow Apple to implement similar protection methods for iCloud backups.


Of course, Apple didn't actually need permission from the Federal Bureau or any US government agencies at all to revise its policies and mechanisms of keeping user data under lock and key. In fact, it's not clear why the company discussed its secret plans with the FBI, but that almost certainly happened, and predictably enough, the Bureau's cyber crime-fighting and operational technology divisions were opposed to the idea, arguing it would deny them the "most effective means for gaining evidence against iPhone-using suspects."

That argument and the fear public officials would go for Apple's jugular for protecting criminals ultimately killed the plan, which would have made it impossible for the company to access its customers' cloud-hoarded data. Furthermore, the risk of getting sued by the government for moving previously accessible data out of reach may have also played a key role in Apple's decision to not "poke the bear anymore."

Imagine Donald Trump's anger had Apple decided to do this


As things stand, it's really not that difficult for the FBI to break into a suspect's iPhone using special hardware designed by infamous companies like Cellebrite and Grayshift. Besides, as Apple highlighted in a transparency report released after the whole scandal surrounding the dead Naval Air Station Pensacola shooter erupted, the tech giant complies with the vast majority of government information requests.


The very fact Apple consulted with the Bureau's cyber crime and tech experts before adopting end-to-end iCloud encryption proves the company "gets along with the federal government" just fine, which makes President Trump's recent Twitter tirade feel completely out of line.

After all, Google did implement back in 2018 something similar to what Apple was purportedly preparing for cloud backups on Android Pie and we don't remember Trump accusing the Alphabet-owned search giant of aiding and abetting "killers, drug dealers, and other violent criminal elements." Of course, the most powerful man in the world did threaten to watch Google "very closely" ahead of the 2020 election, but clearly, Trump is more closely scrutinizing the company led by none other than "Tim Apple."

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8 Comments

1. ph00ny

Posts: 2079; Member since: May 26, 2011

How many article is this on the same topic? News flash, they're required by law to assist when they're required to do so

2. joshuaswingle

Posts: 763; Member since: Apr 03, 2018

They're required by law to co-operate. That doesn't mean they can't offer end-to-end encryption. It's a bit hypocritical from a company that preaches privacy all the time.

4. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2540; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

I don’t think I’d call it hypocritical necessarily. As Adrian points out: Apple would have faced public pressure for appearing that they “help criminals” as well as more lawsuits to get them to create backdoors for the encryption which would’ve made it all a moot point. You have to convince the greater public that encryption is valuable for privacy first before you go to battle with the government which inevitably will involve politics and partisan divide.

7. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

It all comes down to Apple not wanting it's customers not to lose faith in Apple's stance with their customers privacy and security. Yet the government for years has been able to get into Apple's customers iPhones. Think about Windows and the NSA keys back in the 1990's. Not to mention the encryption laws that have been in place long before any iPhone first came to market.

8. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2540; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

The only way the government is able to get into the iPhone is by physically possessing it, so I'm not sure where you are getting your information from? I also am not sure what encryption laws you are referring to.

3. The_Innovation

Posts: 649; Member since: Jul 18, 2012

Wrong. That's not the issue. The FBI wants a key to unlock ALL phones. Inlcuding mine and yours, at any given time. Apple will not give that universal key beucase it breaks privacy laws.

5. cevon3239

Posts: 109; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

What universal key you speaking of? They asked for THIS phone of THIS terrorist and another to be unlocked to help possibly prevent another terrorist attack. Your claim about a universal backdoor is bogus. Even if they asked for it, so what. That has nothing to do with this particular case. I bet if this terrorist blew-up Apple's headquarters, Apple would unlock that phone and give it to the Feds without them even asking.

6. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2540; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

The universal key he is talking about is that the FBI requested that Apple create a new iOS firmware that would disable the auto-erase and timed lockouts that were preventing them from brute forcing their way into the terrorists iPhone. While the FBI would prefer that Apple just create a backdoor to the encryption they have on their devices, they at least wanted this firmware so instead of spending months brute forcing a phone it could be unlocked within an hour (assuming it’s a 4 digit passcode). The problem with creating this firmware is that eventually the software could find its way in the wrong hands or abused by those in law enforcement to unlock anyone’s device (even a law abiding citizen). The second you create a backdoor or a key to unlock something, at some point that key can end up in the wrong hands.
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