“When Apple Inc begins hosting Chinese users’ iCloud accounts in a new Chinese data center at the end of this month to comply with new laws there, Chinese authorities will have far easier access to text messages, email and other data stored in the cloud,” Stephen Nellis and Cate Cadell report for Reuters. “That’s because of a change to how the company handles the cryptographic keys needed to unlock an iCloud account. Until now, such keys have always been stored in the United States, meaning that any government or law enforcement authority seeking access to a Chinese iCloud account needed to go through the U.S. legal system. Now, according to Apple, for the first time the company will store the keys for Chinese iCloud accounts in China itself. That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.”

“Human rights activists say they fear the authorities could use that power to track down dissidents, citing cases from more than a decade ago in which Yahoo Inc handed over user data that led to arrests and prison sentences for two democracy advocates,” Nellis and Cadell report. “Jing Zhao, a human rights activist and Apple shareholder, said he could envisage worse human rights issues arising from Apple handing over iCloud data than occurred in the Yahoo case.”

“In a statement, Apple said it had to comply with recently introduced Chinese laws that require cloud services offered to Chinese citizens be operated by Chinese companies and that the data be stored in China. It said that while the company’s values don’t change in different parts of the world, it is subject to each country’s laws,” Nellis and Cadell report. “‘While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful,’ it said. Apple said it decided it was better to offer iCloud under the new system because discontinuing it would lead to a bad user experience and actually lead to less data privacy and security for its Chinese customers.”

“While China does have data privacy laws, there are broad exceptions when authorities investigate criminal acts, which can include undermining communist values, ‘picking quarrels’ online, or even using a virtual private network to browse the Internet privately,” Nellis and Cadell report. “Privacy lawyers say the changes represent a big downgrade in protections for Chinese customers. ‘The U.S. standard, when it’s a warrant and when it’s properly executed, is the most privacy-protecting standard,’ said Camille Fischer of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple should immediately make iCloud an opt-in service, rather than opt-out, for Chinese users.

Chinese users should not use iCloud for any data they wish to keep private.

Exit question: Why can’t Chinese citizens be trusted with freedom?

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