Why Apple Doesn’t Unlock iPhones Under Investigation

Why Apple Doesn’t Unlock iPhones Under Investigation

Apple has once again ignited debates around privacy and security by refusing to unlock the iPhone of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The Cupertino giant stood firm on its policy that only the device’s user can unlock it by entering their password, a stance it has maintained despite the device in question being central to an ongoing investigation involving Kejriwal. This is not the first time Apple has come under the spotlight for its ‘not-unlocking’ iPhone stance either. 

Kejriwal Probe: Here’s What Went Down

The situation unfolded after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducted a raid on Kejriwal’s residence on the night of March 21, coinciding with his arrest. During the search, authorities confiscated Rs 70,000 in cash along with four mobile phones, including what is reported to be Kejriwal’s personal iPhone. Kejriwal, who had switched off his phone, refrained from sharing his password with the ED, expressing concerns over revealing sensitive political information.

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This Isn’t Apple’s First Rodeo

This incident is not isolated in Apple’s history of upholding its privacy policies against governmental pressures. The company has previously faced similar situations, notably refusing to unlock the iPhones of individuals in significant cases deemed matters of national security by investigating authorities.

Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani’s iPhone

One such instance occurred in 2020 with the iPhone of Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force officer who killed three Americans at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Despite the FBI’s request for access to Alshamrani’s phone data, Apple declined to unlock the device. However, they did provide authorities with information available through iCloud backups and account transactions.

San Bernardino Shooters’ iPhones

Similarly, in 2016, Apple was asked to assist the FBI in accessing the iPhones of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino attack. Apple was requested to develop a solution to bypass a security feature that erases the device’s data after ten unsuccessful password attempts. Apple refused to comply, citing concerns over creating a precedent that would compromise the security of millions and threaten civil liberties.

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Why Won’t Apple Unlock iPhones?

Apple’s refusal to unlock devices for law enforcement is rooted in its commitment to user privacy and the broader implications of creating a backdoor for encryption. Apple CEO Tim Cook has been vocal about the company’s stance, emphasising that the debate is not about a single phone or investigation but the broader implications for civil liberties and data security.

Cook, along with Apple’s Senior Director of Global Privacy, Jane Horvath, argue that undermining encryption with a backdoor for law enforcement also creates a vulnerability that could be exploited by malicious actors. They maintain that end-to-end encryption is crucial for the security of services that people rely on, suggesting that finding other methods to address law enforcement’s investigative needs is essential without compromising privacy.

“At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties,” Cook wrote in an email to employees during the San Bernardino issue.

This steadfast approach by Apple continues to fuel discussions on the balance between national security, law enforcement’s investigative capabilities, and the right to privacy in the digital age.

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