Apple Will No Longer Unlock iPhones For Law Enforcement, With Or Without A Warrant

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
Font Size:

Apple announced late Wednesday that thanks to the release of its iOS 8 mobile software, private iPhone user data including messages, photos and contacts will no longer be accessible to the U.S. government — regardless of whether agencies obtain a warrant.

Users choosing to update their Apple devices to iOS 8 will now have all of their data automatically encrypted, meaning it will only be viewable with the device owner’s corresponding Apple password.

Even if agencies were to obtain the data from Apple, they would be locked out via the new auto-encryption. Such encryption does not apply to users who haven’t downloaded the update, nor does it cover users’ iCloud backup and storage accounts.

“Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” Apple wrote in the “Government Information Requests” portion of its new privacy policy. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

The software update and new corresponding data policy are the latest in Apple’s new pro-privacy campaign, which began last week with the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and Apple Pay launches, and have continued this week via privacy focused interviews with CEO Tim Cook, and briefings on Capitol Hill meant to assure Congress of Apple’s commitment to consumer privacy and security. (RELATED: Apple Promises Congress It Will Protect Users’ Data During Private Hill Meeting)

Apple’s new focus comes at an important time for the Cupertino-based Silicon Valley giant, which recently suffered the damaging hack of celebrities’ private photos from their iCloud accounts. The early 2015 launch of Apple Watch has also raised concerns among regulators as a result of the wearable’s onboard sensors, which will record a variety of user biometrics for health and fitness applications.  (RELATED: What Is Apple Planning To Do With Your Apple Watch Data?)

Last week, Apple also unveiled Apple Pay — a mobile payment system that will sync user accounts with credit cards and banks for quick, single-swipe payment. Both systems have the potential to collect and use a large amount of private, individual consumer data, but Apple has assured the public since day one that not even the company will keep track of what users are buying, nor does it have plans for keeping or using large amounts of health data, according to Cook. (RELATED: Five Things To Look Forward To From Apple’s Watch, iPhone 6 Launch Event)

“Our business is not based on having information about you,” Cook said during a PBS interview aired Monday. “You’re not our product. Our product are these, and this watch, and Macs, and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they’re making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried. And you should really understand what’s happening to that data, and the companies — I think — should be very transparent.” (RELATED: Tim Cook Won’t Let Apple Be A ‘Treasure Trove’ Of User Data For NSA)

“Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products,” Cook wrote in an open letter on Apple’s website this week, in which he tried to differentiate Apple from Silicon Valley contemporaries like Google and Facebook, which base a large part of their business model on mining and using user data. “We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers.”

Follow Giuseppe on Twitter and Facebook