Apple is taking heat from the US government again, but it’s not over ebooks, patents, or price fixing this time. In the latest battle between the tech giant and the government, now it’s federal law enforcement officials who are demanding Apple unlock an iPhone. Invoking the All Writs Act with a technological update, officials contend that Apple must provide access to the content of a specific suspect’s phone; a judge is currently weighing the filings from both sides to see if the Act applies in this situation.
For its part though, Apple says the issue is clear. Not only would this be such a breach of consumer trust as to cause permanent harm to the company’s reputation and financial bottom line, there’s another bigger issue preventing them from complying: Apple says it can’t be done.
One of the company’s ramped up privacy enhancements–a boon to users in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations–is that even Apple can’t get into your device without your passcode. This change in the way its OS works has been in place since the launch of iOS 8.
Unfortunately, the phone in this particular case that the agents want into so badly is running iOS 7. And their texperts say not only can it be done, but that it’s not even a violation of Apple’s user agreement on that model of phone or software. (Opinion: still think it’s annoying to update your devices?)
While the specifics on the actual case have not been revealed, Apple has restated its stance on the potential for irreparable harm to the trust that users have in the company, hoping that the judge will agree the damage will far outweigh the benefit of compelling Apple’s team to do the possibly-impossible.
California just became the first state in the US to enact stricter privacy legislation, largely with the support of Silicon Valley. This legislation bars investigators from gathering information provided through a third-party–such as a device manufacturer or cellular service provider–without a warrant. While the warrant has been issued in this particular case and therefore the new law would not prevent the company from assisting the authorities, it is an indication of just how seriously the tech industry takes its customers’ privacy.