In the latest development in the battle for privacy rights, Apple has rejected a court order to hand over to the U.S. Department of Justice a series of text messages sent between two iPhones, citing encryption safeguards that prevent the company from accessing communications data.
The DOJ says it needs to see the text messages for a criminal investigation—but Apple responded that its new operating system prevents the tech company from accessing data on phones with PINs or passwords, even for law enforcement agencies. The dispute highlights a new frontier in the electronic privacy debate that sparked after Apple introduced its more consumer-friendly iOS last year.
While the DOJ has not yet responded to Apple’s inability to comply with the court order, observers have pointed out the parallels with the DOJ’s other ongoing tussle with a tech giant—Microsoft.
The New York Times reports:
In the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s 2013 domestic surveillance revelations, the call for increased consumer protections against government spying has been met with outspoken rhetoric from intelligence agencies which insist that access to communications data is vital for national security.
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FBI director James Comey in October warned that adding encryption protections to cell phones and other devices would leave law enforcement “in the dark” in counter-terrorism operations and hunting down child molesters. Agents in “law enforcement, national security, and public safety are looking for security that enhances liberty,” he said during a speech at the Brookings Institution.
But that hasn’t convinced Apple or other tech companies, such as Google, that have stepped up privacy protections for users. And it rings hollow for civil liberties advocates, who maintain that encryption tools do not hinder police and FBI operations.
Apple has previously argued that the type of access being pursued by the government could leave users open to hackers and other privacy exploitation, although the company has also privately expressed interest in finding a compromise with the DOJ, according to the Times.