Apple has abandoned encryption of backup data on iCloud after the FBI complained that the measure would harm investigations, six sources familiar with the affair according to Reuters.
The long-term tug of war among investigators’ concerns about the desire of security and technology companies for user privacy became the center of public attention last week, when U.S. Attorney General William Barr took the rare step of publicly asking Apple to unlock two iPhones used by a Saudi Arabian Air Force officer who shot three Americans at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, last month.
Donald Trump, continued, accusing Apple on Twitter for refusing to unlock phones used by “murderers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.” Republican senators and Democrats sounded a similar issue at a hearing in December, threatening legislation against finalizing encryption, citing unrecoverable evidence of crimes against children.
In fact, Apple delivered the iCloud backup copies of the shooter in the Pensacola case, and said it rejected the accusation that “it has not provided substantive assistance.”
Behind the scenes, Apple has provided the FBI with more extensive assistance. An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the company’s handling of the encryption problem or any discussion it had with the FBI. The FBI did not respond to requests for comments on any discussion with Apple.
More than two years ago, Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when they stored their phone data on iCloud, according to a current official and three former FBI officials and a current employee and a former Apple employee.
Under that plan, designed primarily to frustrate hackers, Apple would no longer have a key to unlock encrypted data, which means it could not deliver the material to the authorities legibly, even under a court order.
In private conversations with Apple shortly thereafter, representatives of the FBI’s cybercrime agents and its operational technology division opposed the plan, arguing that it would deny them the most effective means to obtain evidence against suspects using iPhone, sources at the government.