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September 7, 2018

Apple: We’ll Create an Online Tool for Police to Request User Data

The tool won't involve any changes to Apple security

By CBR Staff Writer

Apple Inc, which in June announced it was boosting encryption on its iPhones in order to prevent unauthorised police efforts to unlock handsets, is planning to create an online tool for law enforcement officers to formally request user data.

That’s according to a company letter seen by Reuters.

In the letter  – by Apple General Counsel Kate Adams to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island  – the company said it had responded to 14,000 US law enforcement requests last year that it had generally dealt with within 20 minutes of receipt “regardless of the time of day or night.”

iPhones salesRather than taking those requests by email, the company will now create an online tool for law enforcement officials to make and track requests, according to its letter.

The tool will not involve any changes to Apple security. Apple said in the letter that the tool will be ready by the end of the year.

Apple is capable of and does provide some user data, such as data stored in its iCloud online service, to law enforcement officials if they make a valid legal request, Reuters notes, but the company has repeatedly clashed with US law enforcement officials because it encrypts its devices in such a way that Apple cannot access the devices, and has refused attempts to build backdoors into its OS.

See also: Huawei Topples Apple in Smartphone Battle

The company says: “Apple receives various forms of legal process requesting information from or actions by Apple. Apple requires government and private entities to follow applicable laws and statutes when requesting customer information and data. We contractually require our service providers to follow the same standard we apply to government information requests for Apple data.”

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The company adds in its guidance on privacy policy: “Our legal team reviews requests to ensure that the requests have a valid legal basis. If they do, we comply by providing the narrowest possible set of data responsive to the request. If a request does not have a valid legal basis, or if we consider it to be unclear, inappropriate or overly broad, we challenge or reject the request. We report on the requests every six months.”

Apple Security: No Backdoors

The company has fought a number of high-profile court cases in the US over its security, with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying in 2016  – after the FBI pressed the company to engineer access to the phone of the San Bernandino mass shooter  – “We have no sympathy for terrorists. But now the US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

The company said at the time: “The FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Apple said in the letter that it had trained nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers in how to obtain data from the company. The training previously happened in person at Apple’s headquarters, but the company said it would create an online training course and a team of trainers to help extend its reach to smaller departments.


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