Skip to main content

Report says Apple doesn’t secure iCloud backups because the FBI asked it not to

Apple has been caught in a public tussle with the government over unlocking iPhones of suspects in investigations far too many times but the company has invariably sided with its privacy principles refusing to budge and offer access. Behind the scenes, however, Apple may have been a lot more obliging with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

A new Reuters report claims Apple backtracked on its plan to end-to-end encrypt iPhone owners’ iCloud backups after the FBI, citing that the move would harm investigations, hounded it not to go ahead with it two years ago.

Over the last couple of years, Apple has been stern against iPhone unlock requests by U.S. law enforcement agencies. But the company has numerous times turned over suspects’ iCloud backups, giving up personal data such as iMessage chats and call logs.

In the first half of 2019 alone, authorities were able to obtain complete device backups of nearly 6,000 iCloud accounts. In addition to that, Apple reportedly turned over 14,000 accounts in response to secret U.S. intelligence court directives.

Since this set of data is not encrypted, Apple and its employees can search and view them at their leisure. The company only applies the highest level of security to users’ most sensitive information, such as passwords and health data. The addition of end-to-end encryption would have put an end to this practice.

Before launching an end-to-end encryption switch for iCloud backups, which essentially would have meant no one including Apple could read users’ data, the company is said to have consulted the FBI and upon repeated objection, it decided to drop the plan. This happened just a few months after Apple’s court battle with the FBI over access to an iPhone, and as stated by one former Apple employee, “They [Apple] decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore.”

In 2018, Google successfully launched a similar feature for Android device backups. Sources tell Reuters the search engine giant “gave no advance notice to governments, and picked a time to announce it when encryption was not in the news.”

It’s unclear whether following this report Apple will reconsider end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups. We have reached out to Apple and will update the story once we have a response.

Editors' Recommendations

Shubham Agarwal
Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Firstpost…
As an Android user, I can’t wait for USB-C on the iPhone 15
The USB C port on the bottom of the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

There's one question that strikes fear into the heart of any Android user: "Do you have a phone charger?" Or, at the very least, it makes me mildly annoyed in a world dominated by iPhones.

I've been an Android user since I first picked up a smartphone, and every time I'm around friends or family, someone will ask for a charger without fail. I've even picked up a couple of Lightning cables to keep around whenever someone needs to top off. Now, I'm ecstatic that the days of digging through a pile of misfit cables are finally behind me.
Universal for years

Read more
The 6 biggest announcements from Apple’s iPhone 15 event
Invite for Apple's September 2023 event.

Apple Event - September 12

Every year brings something new, and that's doubly true for smartphones. Summer is on the way out, and while the retreat of the sun is bad news for many, there's a bright silver lining on this cloud: The release of the Apple iPhone 15. Apple has brought the basic iPhones into line with the Pro models, giving even the cheapest flagship models access to the Dynamic Island and the design refresh that we loved in last year's Pro iPhones. But that isn't all, as the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max were also revealed, with improvements of their own.

Read more
This one thing Apple didn’t fix with the iPhone 15 Pro has me struggling to upgrade
List of iPhone 15 Pro features at the September 2023 Apple Event.

Apple laid out its pitch for the new iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro in its usual slick, perfectly manicured fashion. It's easy to get to the end and think, "wow, they thought of everything this year!" ... but with just a couple minutes of reflection you start to realize what they tactfully chose to omit. This year, disappointingly, that was battery life.

In its full 85-minute presentation, Apple didn't boast about the battery life on any of the four iPhones it introduced, even the big-screened iPhone 15 Plus and iPhone 15 Pro Max. Just to double-check, I went over to Apple's comparison tool to look at the numbers:

Read more