Apple has taken a staunch customer privacy stance that many law enforcement and government officials find problematic, even unacceptable. IOS 8 features significant improvement to mobile device encryption. Apple states, "We have also never allowed any government access to our servers. And we never will."
The tech giant published a "Government Information Requests" statement on their official website, along with statistics regarding law enforcement device requests and account information requests. The transparency reports are extremely revealing, stating that the customer initiates most of law enforcement requests (93 percent).
For example, a customer might ask police for help in locating their own lost or stolen phone. Apple explains that iOS 8 has changed the stakes when it comes to consumer privacy. The company claims that it's "not technically feasible" for Apple to provide law enforcement with data on any device running iOS 8, due to its extreme encryption.
However, some law enforcement officials are voicing concern regarding Apple's outspoken stance against sharing private data.
According to King County, Washington, Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff, the new security features paired with Apple's stance against assisting law enforcement create a bad situation for investigators and courts. "You're not protecting it from the community or nefarious individuals," explained Ernsdorff to KIRO Seattle. He describes a number of criminal cases that were solved because of evidence pulled off of smartphones, including a murder and theft investigations.
However, it doesn't seem too surprising that Apple is taking this stance, especially in a post-Snowden and WikiLeaks climate that has caused widespread public distrust regarding government surveillance. A number of tech and telecom companies were implicated during the NSA scandal. After the events surrounding Edward Snowden's leaks, mass surveillance fears became more of a mainstream reality, when they were previously relegated to the realm of fringe conspiracy theory.
In fact, Apple also addresses concerns regarding national security requests. They explain that due to legal issues, they cannot disclose the details of these requests. However, Apple notes that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has awarded them a perfect score in the "Who Has Your Back?" report.
This EFF document assigns scores to tech companies based on six benchmarks: whether the company requires a warrant for content, privacy rights advocacy in Congress, advocacy in courts, publishes law enforcement guidelines, publishes transparency reports and informs users regarding data requests. Aside from Apple, only a handful of companies have been distinguished with a perfect score, including Yahoo, Twitter, Sonic.net, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Credo and Dropbox.
While Apple's strict stance regarding privacy might win them points amongst consumers, it's difficult to say how this will change the way law enforcement officials proceed with acquiring data that is necessary for a case. For now, these organizations will need to refer to Apple's Legal Processes Guidelines for U.S. Law Enforcement entities. This document details the processes. However, the document explicitly states that "for all devices running iOS 8.0 and later versions, Apple will no longer be performing iOS data extractions."
But the document also notes that Apple will continue to perform data extractions on devices running previous operating systems, so long as law enforcement agencies can provide a valid search warrant.