Apple to US court: We can’t unlock new iPhones, even if we try

21 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple Explains Why It’s ‘Impossible’ for It to Unlock Most of Its Devices at Law Enforcement Request.

The claim was made after a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn, New York, sought the firm’s input as he weighed a request to force the company to help authorities access a seized iPhone during an investigation.Apple told a US judge that accessing data stored on a locked iPhone would be “impossible” with devices using its latest operating system, but the company has the “technical ability” to help law enforcement unlock older phones. Apple’s comments were issued in response to the court asking the company on “whether the assistance the government seeks from Apple is technically feasible.” In this Sept. 11, 2013, file photo, an Apple employee, right, instructs a journalist on the use of the fingerprint scanner technology built into the company’s iPhone 5S during a media event in Beijing. (AP/Ng Han Guan) “For devices running iOS 8 or higher, Apple would not have the technical ability to do what the government requests—take possession of a password protected device from the government and extract unencrypted use data from that device for the government,” Apple stated. “Among the security features in iOS 8 is a feature that prevents anyone without the device’s passcode from accessing the device’s encrypted data.

The feature was adopted in 2014 amid heightened privacy concerns following leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance programs. A report on Reuters said that the statements came out in court papers during a case involving the US Department of Justice and its desperate need to access data on an iPhone that has been picked up as part of an investigation. Apple told US Magistrate Judge James Orenstein it could access the ten per cent of its devices that continue to use older systems, including the one at issue in the case. It could, however, “extract certain categories of unencrypted data from a passcode locked iOS device” on these other 10 percent using older operating systems, which includes the phone involved in this case running iOS 7. “Whether the extraction can be performed successfully depends on the device itself, and whether it is in good working order,” Apple said. “As a general matter, however, certain user-generated active files on an iOS device that are contained in Apple’s native apps can be extracted. This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue.” The law the government is leaning on to obtain such data in this and other similar cases is the All Writs Act, a statute dating back to 1789.

Since Apple’s help is still required for some of these methods, the question once again largely boils down to what law enforcement agencies can and cannot ask Apple to do in order to access an iPhone. Earlier this month, Orenstein expressed scepticism about whether he could require Apple to disable security on the iPhone, citing Congress’ failure to act on the issue of encryption despite the urging of the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Orenstein deferred ruling until Apple had a chance to say if it was “technically feasible and, if so, whether compliance with the proposed order would be unduly burdensome.” Apple in its brief said it limited its views to those questions rather than the broader legal issue at hand, which it called “important.” In an order Tuesday, Orenstein invited Apple to address that issue. There is no key,” he said, suggesting that Apple is lonely in its ivory tower. “We run a very different company.” Cook will not have been in court at the time, because he was probably getting ready for his appearance at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live conference at which he banged the same drum. “We said no backdoor is a must.

But if Apple in fact has this capacity, or if the government instead tried to require it to prospectively reengineer the operating system on an unlocked device, All Writs is not the means to do so. Most important, Apple’s choice to offer device encryption controlled entirely by the user is both entirely legal and in line with the expert consensus on security best practices.

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