The iPhone. Since 2007, when this groundbreaking device first came out it has changed the way we interact with our phones.
But the recent wave of mass shootings that have been tragically occurring around the country, such as the Atlanta Spa Shooting which targeted Asian Americans or the Colorado Grocery Store shooting which left 10 dead, including a police officer. Law enforcement wants access to these and other phones for their investigations. In the case of Apple, how safe is iPhone privacy when the law is concerned? What information can Apple legally provide to authorities?
Well the truth is, very little. Apple has made a powerful stance in protecting the privacy of its users. The encryptions in place have essentially left them with the inability to access an iPhones content because those files are protected by an encryption key that is tied the users passcode.
The only information that can be provided with a legal warrant is information they have on their iCloud servers. Which ins’t much but includes emails that are stored on an IMAP server unless the user chose to encrypt stored mail. They can also provide text messages if they are stored as a backup in case a user wanted to retrieve them after losing their phone or purchasing a new one. If a user doesn’t opt to backup text messages then Apple will not have access to the backup anymore. They can also provide information regarding your Apple ID and purchase history. Although this may not be accurate and is often inadmissible as evidence in a case.
In the end, law enforcement can try to access your iPhone with Apple’s support, but that support often produces very little information. The only information that is is susceptible to warrants is your iCloud data. This is why US Attorney General William Barr has stated Apple offers no substantive assistance to the government and law enforcement.
A persons right to not self incriminate bars law enforcement from forcing someone to provide their passcode or use their face or thumb to unlock their phone.
So never give your passcode to the police!
But this doesn’t mean law enforcement won’t use workarounds and other means to try an access a suspects iPhone. They often use a forensic tool called GrayKey which claims to unlock an iPhone by guessing the passcode, possibly using a mathematical algorithm. There are other third party contractors that work with the authorities in cracking peoples phones. But for the time being, Apple has no backdoors on its’ iPhone and therefore can’t provide the government or law enforcement with any means of accessing your iPhone’s data.
Whether the government has the right to access your phone is up to debate. But as it stands Apple has decided to build a system that keeps your data private that they even don’t have access to. This decision keeps Apple from being beholden to Government requests for its users data. However, with enough dedication and technology, the Government can often find a way to get what it wants even without Apples support.