Score one for privacy.
Apple intends to update its iOS with a new feature that will make it significantly more difficult for law enforcement agencies to access data on locked iPhones. While we learned last month that something similar was in the works, we now know for sure that the Cupertino-based tech giant intends to go ahead with the move.
At issue, reports the New York Times, is the $15,000 GrayKey device. It allows law enforcement officials to gain access to locked phones via the lightning port weeks after they were last unlocked. This new protection from Apple, likely an update of USB Restricted Mode, will in theory prevent devices like GrayKey from working any time over an hour after the moment the phone was last unlocked.
In other words, by the time police get a warrant to access your locked phone with a GrayKey, the GrayKey won’t work.
Importantly, the Times makes no mention of when the update would be released to the public. MacRumors, for its part, reported last week that the new feature would be available in iOS 12. Motherboard also reported last week that it was being tested in iOS 12. Apple has said that iOS 12 is compatible with all iPhones dating back to (and including) the 5S and SE.
We reached out to Apple for comment, but received no response as of press time.
Law enforcement agencies across the country, perhaps unsurprisingly, are not welcoming this development.
“If we go back to the situation where we again don’t have access, now we know directly all the evidence we’ve lost and all the kids we can’t put into a position of safety,” the Indiana State Police’s Chuck Cohen told the Times. Cohen leads the task force on internet crimes against children.
Notably, in a statement to the Times, Apple insisted that this isn’t about making it harder for cops to do their jobs.
“We have the greatest respect for law enforcement,” Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz told the paper, “and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”
The improvement may be designed to frustrate GrayKey, however. Today’s news suggests Apple is hitting back at the device and its manufacturer, Grayshift, which just so happens to have been co-founded by an ex-Apple engineer.
Overall, however, this development is perhaps best viewed through the lens of consumer privacy in general. In an April conversation with Mashable, Center for Democracy and Technology chief technologist Joseph Hall explained how the GrayKey is a threat to even law-abiding citizens.
“We have no indication that Grayshift is going to sell these devices only to U.S. law enforcement,” he explained. “They, like any other business that does this, have to ask themselves: How far is too far? What regime is too antithetical to your own principle that you won’t sell the devices to?”
Thanks to Apple, that answer — at least for now — can wait.