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Report: Apple killed plans for end-to-end encrypted iCloud backups after the FBI complained

“[Apple] legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” a former Apple employee reportedly alleges.

Report: Apple killed plans for end-to-end encrypted iCloud backups after the FBI complained
[Photo: Julian O’hayon/Unsplash]
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Apple, the technology company that prides itself on a user’s right to privacy, reportedly shelved plans for end-to-end encrypting iCloud backups after the FBI complained about the plans. That’s according to a report from Reuters, which cites no fewer than six sources familiar with the matter.

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The report says that, two years ago, Apple was gearing up to protect users’ iCloud backups with end-to-end encryption, meaning no one—not even Apple—could access the backed-up data, even if requested to by law enforcement. But plans reportedly changed after complaints from the FBI. As Reuters reports:

In private talks with Apple soon after, representatives of the FBI’s cyber crime agents and its operational technology division objected to the plan, arguing it would deny them the most effective means for gaining evidence against iPhone-using suspects, the government sources said.

When Apple spoke privately to the FBI about its work on phone security the following year, the end-to-end encryption plan had been dropped, according to the six sources.

Reuters goes on to say that it was unable to verify why exactly Apple killed end-to-end encrypted iCloud backup plans, though one former Apple employee told the service, “[Apple] legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine.” That person went on to say “They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore.”

That “bear,” presumably, was government and law enforcement agencies that have increasingly complained about encryption and tech companies’ use of it to protect user data. Such encryption means law enforcement can’t access a suspect’s data without the key. But the encryption also means hackers can’t access users’ data without the key either.

As for Apple, the company has always maintained that the reason it does not provide end-to-end encryption of iCloud backups is for user convenience. The iPhone giant says that if iCloud backups were end-to-end encrypted, if those users forgot their passwords, Apple would have no way of decrypting their valuable data, such as their photos, and thus that data would be lost forever.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will update if we hear back.