Apple dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups after FBI complained: report

Apple dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups after FBI complained: report
© Getty

Apple discarded plans to allow iPhone users to fully encrypt their backup information stored on iCloud after the FBI complained to the company about how the plans would inhibit investigations, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Apple had informed the FBI about its idea to allow users to use end-to-end encryption in their iCloud storage more than two years ago, one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee told the news wire. This would effectively remove the company’s ability to access the data, in an effort to block hackers, meaning it could not give this data to law enforcement.

The decision to abandon these arrangements was made two years ago following private conversations with the FBI’s cyber crime agents and operational technology division, but the decision had not been reported until Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The FBI representatives warned the company that such an offer would not allow law enforcement to access evidence from suspects who are iPhone users.

Apple followed up with the bureau the next year and had at that point dropped the plans, the six sources told Reuters. 

“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” a former Apple employee told Reuters, adding the company did not want to be condemned by officials as protecting criminals, sued for making data unavailable to government or be the subject of new legislation against encryption.

“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” the source added, saying the decision followed a feud between Apple and the federal government over access to an iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.

Without the encrypted data, the FBI is able to search a user’s iCloud without possession of the phone. Apple instead plans to focus on providing protection for the most sensitive user data, like passwords and health information.

Apple has typically been cooperative in investigations involving law enforcement and intelligence overall, although the company has stood firm in some high-profile cases involving getting data from phones belonging to the perpetrators of the San Bernardino and Pensacola, Fla., shootings

ADVERTISEMENT

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment to Reuters on its handling of the plans or conversations with the FBI. The FBI declined to comment to The Hill.

Attorney General William Barr and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE both denounced the company for not allowing the government to unlock the phones belonging to the Pensacola shooter. Apple has denied the statement that it “has not provided substantive assistance.”

Google, which designs Android software, removed its ability to access user’s backup information in October 2018, without giving advance notice to governments, two people familiar with the project told Reuters.

Updated: 3:57 p.m.