Apple’s encryption prevents it from complying with U.S. court order

Apple said it could not comply with a court order to hand over texts sent using iMessage between two iPhones because the company’s encryption system makes it impossible to do so. The Justice Department persuaded the court to issue the order to facilitate an investigation involving guns and drugs. Legal experts say this is the first known direct face-off between the U.S. government and Apple over encryption. The FBI contends that such encryption puts the American public at risk because it makes it harder, if not impossible, to track and catch terrorists, pedophiles, and other criminals.

Apple said it could not comply with a court order to hand over texts sent using iMessage between two iPhones because the company’s encryption system makes it impossible to do so.

The New York Times reports that the Justice Department persuaded the court to issue the order to facilitate an investigation involving guns and drugs.

Legal experts say this is the first known direct face-off between the U.S.government and Apple over encryption.

The battle over encryption has been going on for more than a year now. TheU.S. government, led by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, has argued that that technology companies should stop providing unbreakable encryption to customers. The FBI contends that such encryption puts the American public at risk because it makes it harder, if not impossible, to track and catch terrorists, pedophiles, and other criminals.

In September 2014, James Comey, the FBI director, specifically, and harshly, criticized Apple’s decision to enable “end-to-end” encryption in its then-new mobile operating system, iOS8, which is what is now preventing the company from reading its users’ messages, and complying with the court’s order.

Comey said at the time: “I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone. The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order – to me does not make any sense.

“Google is marketing their Android the same way: ‘Buy our phone and law-enforcement, even with legal process, can never get access to it,’ ” he added.

Apple ignored Comey’s criticism, and has continued to provide more secure encryption features to users. In October 2014, the company released the latest version of its desktop operating system, Mac OS X Yosemite, which, for the first time, comes with an option to encrypt the computer’s entire hard drive by default.

This summer Apple joined forces with Google urging the Obama administration to preserve strong encryption against pressure from law enforcement agencies.

In their letter, the two companies argued that “strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” and that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards [nor] in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.

 

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