While Apple and the FBI are about to fight in court over an iPhone 5c involved in the San Bernardino shootings, this isn’t a new issue for the FBI. According to a report from Bloomberg, the FBI has been concerned about new encryption features ever since Apple released iOS 8 in September 2014.
With iOS 7 and earlier, the FBI could plug an iPhone into a computer and unlock its content in no time. But things changed with iOS 8. With the updated version, if a customer has a passcode on its iOS device, there’s no way to read the content of the phone without unlocking the device first.
After the WWDC keynote in June 2014, Apple sent a beta version of iOS 8 to the FBI so the agency could study the new operating system. The FBI wasn’t happy with this change.
In fact, Apple’s lawyer Bruce Sewell had to fly to Washington and talk with officials to discuss the changes. Apple said the new encryption measures were a privacy feature as hackers had been accessing iPhone data, and not just the FBI.
Apple has complied with thousands of FBI requests to access iCloud data and more. But the company couldn’t do anything about accessing data on iPhones.
“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch. But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels,” FBI Director James Comey said in October 2014, shortly after the release of iOS 8.
Before the San Bernardino case, other than complaining about Apple’s stance on encryption, the FBI had never publicly filed an order to unlock an iPhone running iOS 8 or iOS 9. Filing an order is setting a precedent by itself.
That’s why the current debate surrounding the San Bernardino iPhone 5c is important. Apple has blocked access to phone data with iOS 8. It still complies with the law and helps the FBI with iCloud data, including iPhone backups.
The FBI is trying to make Apple unlock this phone so that it can ask the company to do the same thing again and again. And by doing so, it could compromise the security of every iPhone user out there.