FBI ‘persuaded Apple to halt iCloud encryption’

Sir Jony Ive and Apple chief executive Tim Took.Image copyright VCG

Apple reportedly abandoned plans to let customers fully encrypt back-ups of their iPhones on the company’s iCloud following pressure from the FBI.

Full encryption involves converting data into code so it is impossible to access without a password.

Apple was working on the feature in secret about two years ago, according to Reuters, which broke the news.

But it ditched the plan after FBI cyber-crime agents raised concerns it would hinder investigations.

Complex password

Reuters spoke to six sources, including former employees at Apple and the FBI.

“Encrypting data is essential and companies usually offer help and support when protecting data, so this news comes as a shock to me,” said Jake Moore, a cyber-security expert at internet security and antivirus company ESET.

“However, it doesn’t mean your back-up and data can’t be encrypted.

“You will still be able to make an encrypted back-up on your home computer and store it there.

“As always, users should also be reminded that their data needs to be protected with a strong and complex password.

“The balance between law enforcement and tech companies protecting data comes into question quite often.

“However, this balance is extremely difficult to fine-tune.

“Typically, users want the easiest route if they care about their data security, so encryption should be handed to them on a plate.”

Shot dead

Over the past seven years, Apple has responded to over 127,000 requests from US law enforcement agencies for information.

Last week, the US Attorney General publicly requested Apple unlock two iPhones used by a Saudi Air Force officer who shot dead three Americans at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, last month.

And on 14 January, President Donald Trump accused Apple on Twitter of refusing to unlock phones used by “killers, drug dealers, and other violent criminal elements”.

But Apple did in fact turn over the gunman’s iCloud backups.

“We reject the characterisation that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation,” Apple said on 13 January.

“Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”


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