The FBI isn’t happy with the new iCloud end-to-end encryption
Apple yesterday announced a range of new security technologies for its platforms, including the expansion of end-to-end encryption to additional iCloud data types. In response to that announcement, however, Apple is already facing criticism from the FBI, which said that it is “deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose.”
The FBI isn’t happy with Apple (again)
Apple and the FBI have had more than their fair share of disagreements before. Most notably, the FBI requested that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone in 2016 to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernadino shooter. Apple refused to comply with this request, calling it an “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”
While the FBI was eventually able to unlock the iPhone without Apple’s help (only to find nothing of significance on the device), Apple has since doubled down on encryption and its focus on user privacy. This leads up to where we are this week, with Apple expanding end-to-end encryption to multiple new iCloud data types including device backups, iMessage cloud data, Photos, and more.
As one would expect, the FBI isn’t happy about this decision. In a statement sent to The Washington Post, the FBI said it is “deeply concerned” with the threat posed by end-to-end encryption. The FBI also claims that this will “hinder” its ability to “protect the American people from criminal acts” like cyberattacks, violence against children, and drug trafficking.
Late Wednesday, the FBI said it was “deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose.”
“This hinders our ability to protect the American people from criminal acts ranging from cyber-attacks and violence against children to drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism,” the bureau said in an emailed statement. “In this age of cybersecurity and demands for ‘security by design,’ the FBI and law enforcement partners need ‘lawful access by design.'”
But while the FBI criticizes Apple’s announcement, the company is being praised by others. The Electronic Frontier Foundation praised Apple for the expansion of end-to-end encryption, as well as its decision to stop plans for a CSAM detection feature for iCloud Photos.
Companies should stop trying to square the circle by putting bugs in our pockets at the request of governments, and focus on protecting their users and human rights. Today Apple took a big step forward on both fronts. There are a number of implementation choices that can affect the overall security of the new feature, and we’ll be pushing Apple to make sure the encryption is as strong as possible. Finally, we’d like Apple to go a step further. Turning on these privacy-protective features by default would mean that all users can have their rights protected.
Apple must have known it would face pushback from the FBI and other similar agencies with the announcement of expanded end-to-end encryption for iCloud. While some iCloud data has been end-to-end encrypted for years, this expands the feature to things like cloud devices and Messages backups for the first time.
This will significantly impact the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, as Apple will not hold the key to unlock any of this data. In the past, Apple has been forced to comply with requests from law enforcement in situations where the data was not protected by end-to-end encryption.
I’m interested to see how complaints from government agencies impact Apple’s plans to roll out Advanced Data Protection globally. The feature is only available at launch in the United States, and we expect even stronger pushback from other governments.
The good news for these agencies is that the new end-to-end encryption feature is still opt-in, for now. Users will have to manually go into the Settings app and toggle on “Advanced Data Protection” to add end-to-end encryption to these new iCloud data categories. That is likely to change at some point in the future, at which point we expect more whining from the FBI and others.
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