Apple Isn’t in the Business of Decrypting iPhones

There’s a case currently being heard involving a seized, password-locked iPhone. In their brief, Apple confirms what they’ve been telling everyone for a while: devices upgraded to iOS 8 are encrypted, and they do “not have the technical ability to do what the government requests — take possession of a password protected device from the government and extract unencrypted user data”.

However, the iPhone in question is apparently running iOS 7, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo, and that should mean that there’s more unencrypted data that could potentially be extracted. But:

Apple said it could likely help the government if the iPhone is in working order, without substantial costs or burden, but the company would prefer not to.

“Forcing Apple to extract data in this case, absent clear legal authority to do so, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand,” according to the brief, signed by Apple’s outside counsel Ken Dreifach, Marc Zwillinger and Jeffrey Landis. “This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue.”

Potentially, there is significant or incriminating information on that iPhone, but it is not Apple’s job — or any tech company’s job — to decrypt their devices on behalf of the government. Nor should they feel any burden to install any kind of back door that would allow access to law enforcement.

Tim Cook yesterday at WSJDLive (nice name):

“Do we want our nation to be secure? Of course. No one should have to decide between privacy or security. We should be smart enough to do both. Both of these things are essentially part of the Constitution.”

If law enforcement wants access to information, they need to follow better procedures, not demand that the rest of us give up our privacy and security. Good on Apple for standing up to this attempted intrusion.