The U.S. Department of Justice and FBI advocated dragging Apple to court after the tech giant refused to turn over text messages between suspects using iPhones. Top law enforcement officials told the New York Times that this type of standoff was inevitable as companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google adopted tougher encryption following revelations by Edward Snowden.
Why Apple cannot turn over data to authorities
Apple told the officials that its iMessage service was fully encrypted and it had no way to comply. Separately, the Justice Department is locked in another court battle with Microsoft. In December 2013, the Redmond-based software giant had refused to comply with a warrant for emails from a drug-trafficking suspect. If the U.S. government wins the case against Microsoft, it will provide China, Russia and other countries a way to gain access to servers located in the United States.
Technology companies are trying to demonstrate that they are doing everything they can to protect users’ privacy. Apple, Google, and other major technology companies use end-to-end encryption. The messages are encrypted on both ends of the conversation. Apple doesn’t store copies of the messages unless users upload it to the iCloud, where messages are not encrypted. So, data cannot be handed over to authorities unless it is stored in iCloud.
Apple, others ‘winning’ public relations fight
The FBI and Justice Department officials are frustrated that the technology companies are winning the public relations fight as the White House has failed to move quickly. Washington is yet to come up with a public response to the argument that the government’s victory in the Microsoft case would give countries like Russia and China a way to access servers in the United States.
The Justice Department wants Apple, Google and other companies using end-to-end encryption to comply with wiretap orders, just like telecom carriers do. The law enforcement officials argue that consumers wouldn’t mind investigators getting wiretaps in the digital world if it helped solve crimes. Officials told the New York Times that a legal battle against Apple was still on cards, though it would be a long shot.