Apple Refused Court Order To Decrypt iMessages For DOJ; DOJ Debates What To Do
from the warning-shot dept
For many months now, there’s been a war of words over the whole “going dark” issue, with the two loudest participants being the DOJ demanding backdoors to encryption, and Apple standing up and speaking out loudly about the importance of encryption. Sooner or later you knew the two would meet in a legal situation — and now it’s happened, with Apple clearly winning round one. The NY Times is reporting that the DOJ obtained a court order earlier this summer, demanding that Apple hand over decrypted iMessage messages (in real time) for an investigation. Apple, apparently, told the DOJ that those messages are encrypted, and it has no way to comply with the order. This is exactly the scenario that everyone’s been chattering about for the past year. And apparently, people inside the DOJ are debating what to do about it:
The case, coming after several others in which similar requests were rebuffed, prompted some senior Justice Department and F.B.I. officials to advocate taking Apple to court, several current and former law enforcement officials said.
However, the article notes that any plans to take Apple to court have “been shelved for now.” The rest of the article focuses on a somewhat related situation that we’ve discussed in the past, involving Microsoft refusing to comply with a DOJ subpoena to hand over emails that are stored on an Irish server. The issue in that case is not about encryption, so much as jurisdiction and the differences between a warrant and a subpoena. That case heads back to court this week. However, the issue about encryption and demands to decrypt communications or stored data will continue for quite some time.
The article notes that Apple did turn over some information, which the DOJ took as a sign of good faith:
In the drug and gun investigation this summer, Apple eventually turned over some stored iCloud messages. While they were not the real-time texts the government most wanted, officials said they saw it as a sign of cooperation.
Of course, the major difference here is that the iMessages are encrypted end-to-end, while data stored in iCloud is not, meaning that Apple actually has access to that content. Many have pointed out that in most cases, the important information that the DOJ will want is probably backed up in iCloud anyway, so perhaps that keeps the DOJ from actually going after Apple for the time being. But, still, it is noteworthy that a clash has already happened. Sooner or later, assuming Apple doesn’t give in to the backdoor demands, the DOJ is likely to take someone to court over this… Perhaps it’s just waiting for a company with pockets not quite as deep as Apple’s.