Apple is beefing up iCloud encryption. The FBI says data encryption 'hinders' investigations of crimes.




An Apple store in Sydney, Australia
An Apple store in Sydney, Australia  
  • Apple, which federal agents regularly ask for access to user data, is further securing iCloud info.

  • The FBI criticized encryption in comments to WashPo, saying it would curtail criminal investigations.

  • Apple has disclosed that it provides information in response to most government agency requests.

Apple's move to offer improved protections for users' iCloud information, and to make texting more secure, may be raising some hackles among federal agents.

The tech giant unveiled new security tools, as reported in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, that it said would shore up privacy for iMessages, and offer further encryption to make users' iCloud information, such as pictures, more secure. Apple users' iCloud information has already been long protected by other forms of encryption.

Apple touted the benefits of some of its new extra protections especially for "journalists, human rights activists, and diplomats," according to a press release on its website.

The FBI then told the Washington Post in a statement that this type of "end-to-end and user-only-access encryption" raises fears about navigating investigations that would require access to information like messages archived in the cloud. But the agency's statement did not explicitly reference Apple.

"This hinders our ability to protect the American people from criminal acts ranging from cyber-attacks and violence against children to drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism," the agency told the paper.

The FBI said in its statement also shared with Insider on Thursday afternoon that it is "a strong advocate for the wide and consistent use of responsibly managed encryption - encryption that providers can decrypt when served with a legal order and provide that information to law enforcement."

Apple has previously disclosed that it receives thousands of requests each year from government agents for user information, and that it complied in the vast majority of those cases.

In just the first half of 2021, the latest time period for which the company currently provides such information on its website, the company said it received more than 7,000 requests for information related to users' Apple accounts, and more than 4,000 requests for data related to phones and other electronics.

Apple responded to 90% of those requests relating to Apple accounts, and 82% of those involving devices, according to its website.

The new security improvements Apple is offering includes some extra measures that users can take to make sure their communications and information is secure. In the case of iMessage for instance, the company is offering "iMessage Contact Key Verification" aimed at users more vulnerable to hacking.

Another tool would also let users require an actual physical key to login to their Apple account, as part of an even more secure two-factor authentication process, according to the company.

Apple has been known to hand over personal information of suspects in government investigations, as it did in 2020 after protests around the country over the police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis by now convicted former officer Derek Chauvin.

At the time, Apple handed over the iCloud data of a suspect who participated in a protest in Seattle where police cars were being burned.

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