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, said one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee. 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.
“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” another former Apple employee said he was told, without any specific mention of why the plan was dropped or if the FBI was a factor in the decision.
“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” the person said, referring to Apple’s court battle with the FBI in 2016 over access to an iPhone used by one of the suspects in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
Critics have long suspected Apple hands over iCloud data when pressed by the US government to do so, as in the recent case of the Pensacola shooter, but having the practice confirmed puts a dent in Apple’s claims that it champions consumers’ privacy at every turn.
Apple has, however, consistently refused to unlock iPhones, or worse, to build in backdoor access to them, which is what the FBI and the US government really wants — despite the risk that the same backdoor could be potentially be exploited by bad actors.
The report comes a week after President Donald Trump slammed Apple for refusing to create backdoors that would help law enforcement agencies unlock iPhones, specifically in a Department of Justice investigation of a deadly naval base shooting last month in Florida. The Cupertino company responded by saying it gave the FBI the gunman’s account information, iCloud backups, and transactional data linked to the iPhone.