FBI calls Apple's advanced iCloud encryption 'deeply concerned' as privacy groups hail it as a win for users

Sami Fathi

Yesterday, Apple announced that end-to-end encryption will be applied to even more sensitive iCloud data types, including device backups, contacts, messages, photos, and more, responding to long-standing privacy concerns from users and groups alike. who called on the company to take a significant step forward in user privacy.

‌iCloud‌ End-to-End Encryption, or what Apple calls “Advanced Data Protection,” encrypts user data stored in ‌iCloud‌, meaning that only a trusted device can decrypt and read the data. ‌iCloud‌ data in accounts with Advanced Data Protection can only be read by a trusted device, not by Apple, law enforcement, or government agencies.

Following their announcements by the EFF or the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that has long urged Apple to enable end-to-end encryption and take additional steps to protect user privacy, released a statement welcoming the new feature and reaffirming Apple's commitment to privacy.

We thank Apple for listening to expert opinion, advocates for children's rights and users who want to protect their most sensitive data. Encryption is one of the most important tools for online privacy and security. That's why we included a requirement that Apple allow users to encrypt iCloud backups in the “Install Already” campaign we launched in 2019.

Meredith Whittaker, CEO of popular encrypted messaging app Signal, said Apple's decision to offer end-to-end encryption is “great.” “There was enough pressure and enough narrative work for them to see how a side of the story is shaping up. It's really incredible,” Whittaker told The Washington Post.

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, or S.T.O.P, called enhanced data protection “necessary and overdue.” Despite the announcement, the group is “disappointed” that end-to-end encryption will require user consent and is not enabled by default. Fox Kahn, the group's chief executive, said: “It's good to see Apple's privacy protections catching up with its advertising campaign, but including these protections will leave most users vulnerable.”

For years, Apple has touted its privacy, leaving its users vulnerable, especially to police surveillance. Most of the data that users store in iCloud is just a court order that cannot become a control tool. With these changes, Apple will adhere to privacy best practices that other companies have followed for years. But it's frustrating that users have to agree to many of these new protections, putting the vast majority at risk.

Another privacy advocacy group, Fight for the Future, said on Twitter that Apple's announcement of end-to-end encryption brings the company's privacy-focused marketing to life. “Apple's reputation as a privacy-conscious tech company has long been at odds with the fact that ‌iCloud‌ not protected by end-to-end encryption. This news means that people's private messages, documents and data will be safe. from law enforcement, hackers, and Apple itself.” The group is now calling on Apple to bring RCS messaging to the iPhone, which the group says is “the next non-negotiable step.”

While privacy groups and apps are applauding Apple for expanding end-to-end encryption in ‌iCloud‌, governments have reacted in different ways. In a statement to The Washington Post, the FBI, the world's largest intelligence agency, said it was “deeply concerned about the threat of end-to-end and user-only encryption.” The bureau said that Apple's end-to-end encryption and advanced data protection make things difficult for them and that they request “lawful access by design.”

“This hinders our ability to protect the American people from criminal activities ranging from cyberattacks and violence against children to drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism,” the bureau said in an email. by design” The FBI and law enforcement partners need “lawful access by design.”

Former FBI official Sasha O'Connell also weighed in, telling The New York Times : “It's great to see companies prioritize security, but we have to remember that there are trade-offs, and one that is often overlooked is the impact it has on reducing law enforcement's access to digital evidence. .”< /p>

In January 2020, Reuters reported that Apple had abandoned plans to encrypt user data in ‌iCloud‌ at the behest of the FBI, who were concerned that such a move would interfere with the investigation and its intelligence efforts. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern yesterday, Apple's vice president of software development, Craig Federighi, called the report inaccurate. “I heard the rumor, but I don't know where it came from.”

In the same interview, Federighi said that Apple “deeply values ​​the work of law enforcement and supports the work of law enforcement. . We believe that we really have the same mission at heart, which is to keep people safe.” Apple says Advanced Data Protection will be available to all users in the US by the end of this year, with a global launch scheduled for early 2023.

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