Argument over strong encryption reaches boiling point as Apple, Microsoft rebuff court orders for data access

A long-running debate concerning recent advances in consumer data encryption came to a head this summer when Apple rebuffed a Justice Department court order demanding access to iMessage transcripts, causing some in the law enforcement community to call for legal action against the company.

Argument over strong encryption reaches boiling point as Apple, Microsoft rebuff court orders for data access

Over the summer Apple was asked to furnish real-time iMessage communications sent between two suspects in an investigation involving guns and drugs, reports The New York Times. The company said it was unable to provide such access as iMessage is protected by end-to-end encryption, a stance taken in similar cases that have over the past few months punctuated a strained relationship between the tech sector and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Sources said a court action is not in the cards for Apple just yet, but another case involving Microsoft could set precedent for future cases involving strong encryption. Microsoft is due to argue its case in a New York appellate court on Wednesday after being taken to task for refusing to serve up emails belonging to a drug trafficking suspect. As the digital correspondence was housed in servers located in Dublin, Ireland, the company said it would relinquish the emails only after U.S. authorities obtained proper documentation from an Irish court.

Government agencies have posed hypothetical scenarios in which strong encryption systems, while good for the consumer, hinder or thwart time-sensitive criminal investigations. It appears those theories are being borne out in the real world.

Further confusing matters is a seemingly non-committed White House that has yet to decide on the topic either way. Apple and other tech companies are pressing hard to stop the Obama administration from agreeing to policy that would, in their eyes, degrade the effectiveness of existing data encryption technologies.

As for Apple, while some DOJ and FBI personnel are advocating to take the company to court, other officials argue that such an action would only serve to undermine the potential for compromise. Apple and other tech firms have privately voiced interest in finding a common ground, The Times reports. To that end, the publication notes Apple did indeed hand over a limited number of messages stored in iCloud pertaining to this summer's investigation.

For its part, Apple is standing firm against government overtures calling for it to relinquish data stored on its servers. CEO Tim Cook outlined his thoughts on data privacy in an open letter to customers last year and came down hard on unlawful government snooping earlier this year.


Tim Cook pushes for strong encryption at White House summit

As expected, Apple CEO Tim Cook urged White House and government officials to come to terms with strong encryption practices that protect consumer data, at one point saying such intentions should be stated publicly. Cook's plea came during a cybersecurity summit held in San Jose, Calif., last week, where government officials met with Silicon Valley ...

Texas Church Shooting: More Calls for Encryption Backdoors

US Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, has decided to use the recent mass shooting at a Texas church to reiterate calls for encryption backdoors to help law enforcers. The incident took place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, killing at least 26 people. Deceased suspect Devin Kelley’s mobile phone is now in the ...

FBI couldn't retrieve data from nearly 7000 mobile phones due to encryption

The head of the FBI has reignited the debate about technology companies continuing to protect customer privacy despite law enforcement having a search warrant. The FBI says it hasn't been able to retrieve data from nearly 7000 mobile phones in less than one year, as the US agency turns up the heat on the ongoing ...

Apple to expand encryption on Macs

Apple is amping up its commitment to encryption. The company is beginning the first major overhaul of the Mac filing system — the way it stores files on the hard drive — in more than 18 years. The move was quietly announced during a conference break out session after Apple’s blockbuster unveiling of its new ...