Reports Reveal FBI Pressured Apple to Keep Door Open to Customer Data

By Mike Talavera

New reports reveal that Apple canceled a project in development two years ago that would have made it more difficult for the company to access backups of user data after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) complained that the privacy measure would impede its own investigations.

According to the former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee who spoke with bourgeois media outlet Reuters, Apple had planned on providing end-to-end encryption for its iCloud backup service by tying the key needed to unlock the encryption to the customer’s passcode and unique information from the customer’s device. Despite hiring a team to begin on this initiative, the whistleblowers said it was dropped after the FBI objected. “They weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” one whistleblower said.

Often advertising itself as a bastion of privacy technology, Apple historically has not lived up its marketing slogan, “Privacy is a fundamental human right.” Recently, Attorney General William Barr called on the company to access the devices of the Saudi Air Force officer who killed three at a Florida naval base last month. Apple provided the cloud backups (which would have been protected by their previous plan) to the government in this case.

‘Privacy Matters’ marketing ad from Apple.

End-to-end encryption is a form of security technology that prevents a third party from accessing data without a key tied to the original data creator. In theory, when it is enabled, Apple would not be able to access customer data, or hand it over to law enforcement, but even with such a service, ‘privacy’ is neither a right nor a guarantee when the state seeks access, whether through technological or other means.

Back when the plan for iCloud end-to-end encryption was in the works, Apple was engaged in a court battle with the FBI over unlocking the iPhone of the San Bernardino mass shooter in 2016. The FBI withdrew from the proceedings after it hired a contractor who could break into the phone without Apple’s assistance.

“Outside of that public spat over San Bernardino,” said one whistleblower, “Apple gets along with the federal government.”

The government may make showy public disputes over the data of mass shooters, but in the first half of 2019 alone, Apple said that it honored over 90% of government requests for access to customer data, amounting to over 18,000 infiltrated iCloud accounts.

Along with seeing itself as a ‘privacy pioneer,’ Apple also sells itself as a humanity’s leader into the future, peddling the falsehood that the advancement of technology itself can emancipate the world’s people. This episode of Apple’s complicity with US law enforcement, which was kept secret from the public, illustrates how technology is still wielded and controlled by the ruling class, especially US imperialism. In this way, Apple is no different from other major technology companies such as Microsoft and Google who drive exploitation at every level of their operations. The working class and oppressed peoples, and particularly those actively organizing for a better society, should not put their faith in the innovation of technology, but in the creativity of the masses and in the salience of proletarian ideology.