Apple reportedly abandoned plans to allow iPhone users to encrypt their backups in the company’s iCloud service after the FBI complained that it would impede investigations.
The revelation comes as Apple and the federal government are once again butting heads over digital privacy. The DOJ is putting pressure on Apple to provide access to the iPhones used by the Saudi terrorist who shot and killed three U.S. sailors in Pensacola, Florida, in December.
Apple has taken a hardline stance on digital privacy, claiming that privacy is one of the company’s core values.
Reuters reported Tuesday that Apple’s change of heart regarding iPhone encryption took place “about two years ago.” The news service cited six anonymous sources who were “familiar with the matter.”
Apple’s reversal was prompted by a prolonged exchange between the tech giant and the FBI over the company’s plan to provide iPhone users with end-to-end encryption capabilities.
Under that plan, according to the report, Apple would no longer have been able to unlock encrypted data of its iPhone users. As a result, the company wouldn’t have been able to hand over material to law enforcement in a readable form even under court order.
Later, the FBI told Apple that it objected to the plan, saying it would effectively shut the door on the most effective way of accessing evidence on iPhone-using suspects.
The following year when Apple met again with the FBI, the end-to-end encryption plan had been dropped. Reuters said it could not determine why exactly Apple had dropped the plan.
A former Apple employee told Reuters that the plan was “killed” by the company’s legal department, “for reasons you can imagine.”
The former employee said that Apple didn’t want to risk being attacked by public officials for protecting criminals or sued for moving previously accessible data out of reach of government agencies.
Two former FBI officials, who were not present in talks with Apple, told Reuters that it seemed like the FBI’s arguments had prevailed.
But a former Apple employee told the news outlet that it was possible the encryption project was dropped for other reasons, such as concern that more customers would find themselves locked out of their data more often.
Apple previously squared off with law enforcement in 2016 over access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. In that case, Apple fought the government until a third-party company provided a solution to break into the shooter’s device.