Apple again has taken a step it says will strengthen privacy for its millions of product users, but the heightened encryption measure has drawn criticism from law enforcement who want the ability to “crack” phones of suspects in search of information during criminal investigations.
And once again a decision by the company has called attention to the inconsistencies of its policies in free countries, as opposed to China.
The measure, announced Wednesday, would alter the settings on the iPhone to severely curb the ability of police to communicate with the devices via external “hacking” instruments. Previously law enforcement could connect and access the iPhones’ data in an unlimited fashion in search of accessibility passwords. Under the new update, the phones will lock out all attempts at access after an hour.
“If we go back to the situation where we again don’t have access, now we know directly all the evidence we’ve lost and all the kids we can’t put into a position of safety,” said Chuck Cohen, an Indiana State Police officer who specializes in online crimes against children, to the New York Times.
According to a report from Reuters, Apple was said to be “aiming to protect all customers, especially in countries where phones are readily obtained by police or by criminals with extensive resources, and to head off further spread of the attack technique.”
Unless those customers are in China, that is, where Apple allows customers’ data to be housed on the communist government’s servers. As Reuters reported in March, authorities can “use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users.”
So American law enforcement will have greater difficulty accessing criminals’ communication records – such as in the case of the mass shooters in San Bernardino, Calif., Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik – than will authoritarian Chinese officials with citizens who, say, might merely express disagreement with their government. Apple CEO Tim Cook famously resisted requests by the FBI to assist in accessing Farook’s password-protected phone, although later a Justice Department inspector general determined the agency failed to exhaust other methods of accessing the phone before taking Apple to court.
A U.S. Senator highlighted Apple’s hypocrisy.
“If Apple is willing to store Chinese customers’ data on a state-owned firm’s servers, then it should be more than willing to cooperate with valid warrants from U.S. law enforcement,” said Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. “Criminals and terrorists should never take precedence over the safety of the American people.”