FBI was ‘stunned’ by Apple’s hardened encryption of iOS

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iOS 8 is when the FBI got really worried about Apple encryption.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The FBI was reportedly “stunned” when it first got to see what Apple had planned for iPhone encryption, after it received early access to iOS 8 (where Apple introduced its new, stronger iPhone encryption) so that it could examine how its evidence-gathering techniques would have to change.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple’s top lawyer Bruce Sewell traveled to Washington soon after Apple previewed iOS 8 back in 2014, with the aim of discussing Apple’s proposed changes with then-Attorney General Eric Holder and other administration officials. It was at this point (and not just the recent San Bernardino shooting case) when the FBI realized it had a fight on its hands.

The in-depth article — based on “more than a dozen government officials, technology executives and attorneys tracking the case” — goes into detail about the background of Apple’s current FBI standoff concerning user privacy. It reveals that the FBI’s concerns about Apple encryption date back as far as the introduction of FaceTime in 2010.

It also notes that:

“For several years, the FBI pushed the White House to propose new laws that would ensure investigators could access data on phones and other devices with court orders. Officials were close to an agreement on legislation to update communications and privacy laws in 2013, but the Snowden revelations blew up the deal, according to a former U.S. official. After that, there was never again a serious effort to pass the legislation, the official said.”

Interestingly, it seems that part of the root problem may come down to a misunderstanding on Apple’s part. In late 2014, Apple began working with administration officials to lobby China against adopting new anti-encryption policies — proposing that any company selling smartphones in China would have to provide the government with a way of unlocking handset encryption.

While the lobbying worked, Apple “took away the wrong impression” that the White House was in support of strong encryption, when no decision had actually been reached.

The whole article is well worth reading if you’re looking for a bit more background on the privacy case rapidly turning into the year’s most important tech story. You can check it out here.

Source: Bloomberg