Apple faces a whole lot of inbound requests to unlock iPhone devices from law enforcement officials, according to a new report from CNET. Seized iPhones with a passcode lock are apparently secure enough to frustrate a lot of police agencies in the U.S., resulting in a wait list that Apple has put in place to help it deal with unlock requests from the authorities.
The waiting list was long enough that it resulted in a 7-week delay for a recent request by the ATF last summer, according to the CNET report. The good news for iPhone owners is that the ATF in that instance turned to Apple as a last resort, after trying to find a law enforcement body at either the local, state or federal level that had the capability to unlock the phone in-house for three months to no avail. The bad news is that an affidavit obtained by CNET, the decryptions seem to take place without necessarily requiring a customer’s knowledge, whereas with Google there’s a password reset involved that notifies a user via email of the unlock.
Apple can reportedly bypass the security lock to get access to data on a phone, download it to an external device and hand that over to the authorities, according to an ATF affidavit, which means that ultimately, the information on an iOS device isn’t 100 percent secure. But overall, repeated reports peg Apple devices as particularly resistant to prying eyes operating in law enforcement.
A previous report from CNET also identified iMessage as resilient in the face of outside surveillance attempts, especially compared to more common text communication methods like SMS. Combined, the reports suggest that Apple’s technology for its mobile devices is especially good at repelling unwanted advances, which is great for privacy buffs, though the policies around when and why Apple does share that information needs more fleshing out.
We’ve reached out to Apple to see if they have any official comment on the unlock queue from law enforcement and how they proceed with requests, and will update if we hear more.