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Apple Drops End-to-End Encrypted Backups Plan After FBI Complaints

  • Apple’s original plan to allow users to fully encrypt their backups falls apart after FBI complained it would harm their investigations
  • A former Apple employee says Apple dropped the plan to avoid scrutiny from public officials
  • Last week, the US Attorney General asked Apple to grant access to two iPhones used by a Saudi Air Force officer who shot two US citizens dead

Apple’s plan to allow iPhone users to entirely encrypt backups of their devices through the iCloud storage service fell apart after the FBI objected to the plan because it would undermine investigations.

An ex-Apple employee said that the tech giant wants to avoid scrutiny from government officials because the move could provide protection to criminals.

“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” the source said to Reuters, following Apple’s legal case against the FBI in 2016 over access to an iPhone used in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple has shown support to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services in the past, even though it had legal disputes with the authorities and was a protector of its clients’ information.

The long-lasting conflict between authorities’ worries about security and technology companies’ intention to protect user privacy became the centre of attention once again last week after U.S. Attorney General William Barr publicly requested from Apple to provide access to two iPhones used by a Saudi Air Force officer who killed three US citizens at a Pensacola, Florida naval base last month.

U.S. President Donald Trump recently blamed Apple on Twitter for refusing to grant access to phones used by “killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.” 

Republican and Democratic senators expressed similar concerns in a December hearing, signalling regulation against end-to-end encryption, due to unrecoverable proof of crimes against children.

The tech giant actually granted access to the shooter’s iCloud backups in the Pensacola case, and opposed the assessment that it “has not provided substantive assistance.”

Over two years ago, Apple told the Bureau its plan to provide its users with end-to-end encryption when uploading their phone data on iCloud, said one current and three ex FBI agents, as well as one current and one former Apple employee.

Not long after, the FBI cybercrime agents and its operational technology unit held a discussion with Apple and opposed the plan, saying it would prevent them from using the most effective method for obtaining evidence against criminals that use iPhone, the government sources stated.

About the author

Dimitar Bogdanov
Dimitar Bogdanov
I have been a journalist for Invezz since 2012 and am one of the oldest on the team. My focus is on cryptocurrencies as well as general equity markets, although my experience is broad overall.

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