Apple Dropped Plan for Encrypting iCloud Backups →

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Joseph Menn, reporting for Reuters:

More than two years ago, Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud, according to one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee.

Under that plan, primarily designed to thwart hackers, Apple would no longer have a key to unlock the encrypted data, meaning it would not be able to turn material over to authorities in a readable form even under court order.

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 could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.

“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” another former Apple employee said he was told, without any specific mention of why the plan was dropped or if the FBI was a factor in the decision.

That person told Reuters the company did not want to risk being attacked by public officials for protecting criminals, sued for moving previously accessible data out of reach of government agencies or used as an excuse for new legislation against encryption.

If this is true, then Apple’s pro-privacy campaign is only true if you refrain from using iCloud. Unfortunately, iCloud Backup is the only automatic backup system supported by iOS, although you can go back to making local and secure iTunes backups instead. We of course have no real clue whether our particular backups were accessed or not, but I assume nobody is searching people’s data who stay away from legal trouble.

That said, Apple should definitely introduce end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups, or educate its users about the dangers of using iCloud Backup at the very least.

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