Apple plans to make it easier for police to request and access its users’ data, and will put together a team to help law enforcement know what data they can and cannot request.
Last year, Apple received and responded to 14,000 requests from US law enforcement agencies, including 231 that were classified as “domestic emergency requests.” The company divulged this information to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), in a letter seen by Reuters.
Apple currently handles these requests via email. However, such was the volume of requests that the iPhone manufacturer decided to develop an online tool to streamline the process for law enforcement agencies. The tool will allow these agencies to make and track requests directly.
In addition, Apple said it has trained nearly 1,000 law enforcement officers on how to go about making requests at its headquarters in California. With demand increasing, the company said it will develop an online training course for agencies and departments nationwide.
While Apple does provide some of its user data on request, and will continue to do so through the new tool, the company is highly reticent to break its encryption for law enforcement. Apple says it cannot access encrypted data on its own devices, and refuses to install so-called ‘backdoors’ to allow this encryption to be bypassed.
The FBI threatened to take Apple to court in 2016 to force the company to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters responsible for a massacre in San Bernardino, California. One day before the court hearing was scheduled, the FBI backed off, as it had found an Israeli firm able and willing to crack the smartphone.
Apple fought the FBI tooth and nail, saying that America’s founding fathers “would be appalled” by the FBI’s invasion of privacy. However, Apple and other tech giants might soon be forced to change their tune.
After a recent meeting on Australia’s Gold Coast, ministers for the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – known as the ‘Five Eyes’ – released a joint statement calling on tech companies to make it easier for “law enforcement to gain targeted access to data.”
The agency heads called on companies to turn over their encryption keys voluntarily when requested, and threatened them with “technological, enforcement, legislative, or other measures,” if they refuse. The spy chiefs did not say what these “measures” might be. It is not yet known whether Apple intends to comply with the Five Eyes’ request.
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