Apple’s history of handling government data requests has been chronicled in a report. According to that report, the company received its first court order for offering help in unlocking an iPhone back in 2008, and it willingly complied with it.
In 2008, Apple was very cooperative
In 2008 or around a year after the debut of iPhone, Apple received an order from the court for the first time, requesting it to help in accessing one of its own devices. The case was related to the prosecution of child sex offenders – Amanda and Christopher Jansen, says a report from the Wall Street Journal.
It is believed that the 2008 Watertown, N.Y. case is the precursor of numerous FBI requests, seeking Apple’s assistance for unlocking, but now the company actively resists such requests. Last year, the Justice Department lodged a filing in a separate Brooklyn case involving a drug trafficker’s iPhone. The filing details the 2008 prosecution that partially relied on the evidence recovered from the iPhone.
No statute exists to compel assistance from a company like Apple, said Prosecutor Lisa Fletcher in a request to Apple in 2008. However, she did point out that it is possible for the court to invoke the All Writs Act to force Apple’s compliance. Though the iPhone maker did said to offer assistance as long as the Justice Department furnishes a proper court order.
Interestingly, that time the tech firm offered its help in drafting the order, which the U.S. Magistrate Judge George Lowe signed later. This enabled the company to bring the target device back to California and bypass its passcode in front of a New York State Police investigator. Overall, the government was able to access more than 70 devices with help from Apple, and that too, without much public ado.
How the things changed?
Apple continued offering its help to the government for unlocking the devices until 2014, when the wider tech industry started to clamp down on product security after revelations regarding the government snooping operations.
Smartphones were considered niche devices, and handling of government data requests was a new territory for the courts and manufacturers alike at the time of the first iPhone case. Apple iPhones led to the rise in the interest of people in the smartphones, along with the data produced and stores on these devices.
Over the past few years, government agencies have been using several data extraction techniques either developed in-house or third-party tools. But, in 2014, Apple rendered all such tools and techniques obsolete, when it came up with on-device encryption with the A7 SoC, a processor featuring Secure Enclave technology.