Multinational struggle pits Apple against new encryption laws

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GrayKey can bypass iPhone security
Several governments have passed or are working on laws that Apple argues weaken the encyption that protects the privacy of its users.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Australia recently passed a law forcing tech companies to give law enforcement greater access to encrypted messages from users. The U.K. already has a similar law, and India is considering one.

There’s no new legislation in the U.S., but the FBI and other police agencies still want easy access to iPhones and other computers, as well as private conversations.

Controversial new law in Australia

Australia’s law requires messaging services include a way for police and national security agencies to secretly eavesdrop on encrypted conversations.

Apple warned the Australian parliament before this law passed that its wording is too vague. “Future governments could interpret the bill’s broad and vague terms quite differently, wielding its provisions to weaken encryption,” said Apple’s submission.

Encryption for everyone

In 2013, Edward Snowden made headlines around the world by revealing that the U.S. government was collecting and storing as much digital information as it could about everyone, even leaders of friendly countries. The response of Apple and other tech companies was to encrypt everything they could in their products. 

Since this change, nearly all the contents of any iPhone that has been passcode-locked are encrypted. Messages sent over iMessage and FaceTime are likewise encrypted.

Apple and other companies argue that they’re defending users against hackers, and also protecting people who live in repressive regimes. Law-enforcement agencies say these efforts are making it harder to catch criminals. 

The FBI is “very curious to see how the Australian law, now that it is passed, will be implemented and what will be the impact,” said Amy Hess, executive assistant director with the FBI, to the Wall Street Journal.

Apple scored a major victory over efforts to hack into locked iPhones in iOS 12. This update greatly restricted the information that could be obtained through the GreyKey unlocking tool that’s widely used by law enforcement.