Apple refused to give iMessages to the U.S. government

“In an investigation involving guns and drugs, the Justice Department obtained a court order this summer demanding that Apple turn over, in real time, text messages between suspects using iPhones,” Matt Apuzzo, David E. Sanger and Michael S. Schmidt report for the New York Times. “Apple’s response: Its iMessage system was encrypted and the company could not comply.”

“Government officials had warned for months that this type of standoff was inevitable as technology companies like Apple and Google embraced tougher encryption,” Apuzzo, Sanger and Schmidt report. “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.”

MacDailyNews Take: To be clear: As usual, Apple did this first and, as usual, Google chimed in “me too” in order to not look bad, even though it’ll take them years to roll it out, if they ever do, while virtually every Apple iOS user already has it.

“Officials say a court fight with Apple is still an option, though they acknowledge it would be a long shot,” Apuzzo, Sanger and Schmidt report. “Some object that a legal battle would make it harder for the companies to compromise, the law enforcement officials said. They added that Apple and other companies had privately expressed willingness to find common ground.”

“Apple declined to comment on the case for this article. But company officials have argued publicly that the access the government wants could be exploited by hackers and endanger privacy,” Apuzzo, Sanger and Schmidt report. “‘There’s another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day — it’s the battle over encryption,’ Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, told a conference on electronic privacy this year. ‘We think this is incredibly dangerous.’Echoing the arguments of industry experts, he added, ‘If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too.’ If criminals or countries ‘know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it,’ he concluded.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Here’s an idea: The U.S. federal government should adhere to the U.S. Constitution and governments everywhere should respect their citizen’s rights.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.United States Constitution, Amendment IV

Because the U.S. government spooks trampled all over the U.S. Constitution, constantly demanding that Apple grant access to customers devices, Apple decided to remove themselves for the equation. And so, the government reaps what it hath sown. We guess law enforcement will have to get off their asses and do some old-fashioned leg work if they want to crack cases.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. – Ronald Reagan, March 30, 1961

Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! – Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

Visit the Apple-backed today.

A message from Tim Cook about Apple’s commitment to your privacy:

At Apple, your trust means everything to us. That’s why we respect your privacy and protect it with strong encryption, plus strict policies that govern how all data is handled.

Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services, including iCloud and new services like Apple Pay. And we continue to make improvements. Two-step verification, which we encourage all our customers to use, in addition to protecting your Apple ID account information, now also protects all of the data you store and keep up to date with iCloud.

We believe in telling you up front exactly what’s going to happen to your personal information and asking for your permission before you share it with us. And if you change your mind later, we make it easy to stop sharing with us. Every Apple product is designed around those principles. When we do ask to use your data, it’s to provide you with a better user experience.

We’re publishing this website to explain how we handle your personal information, what we do and don’t collect, and why. We’re going to make sure you get updates here about privacy at Apple at least once a year and whenever there are significant changes to our policies.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

One very small part of our business does serve advertisers, and that’s iAd. We built an advertising network because some app developers depend on that business model, and we want to support them as well as a free iTunes Radio service. iAd sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other Apple product. It doesn’t get data from Health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail, and you can always just opt out altogether.

Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.

Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers. We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.


Obama administration war against Apple just got uglier – July 31, 2015
Edward Snowden: Apple is a privacy pioneer – June 5, 2015
U.S. Senate blocks measures to extend so-called Patriot Act; NSA’s bulk collection of phone records in jeopardy – May 23, 2015
Rand Paul commandeers U.S. Senate to protest so-called Patriot Act, government intrusion on Americans’ privacy – May 20, 2015
Apple, others urge Obama to reject any proposal for smartphone backdoors – May 19, 2015
U.S. appeals court rules NSA bulk collection of phone data illegal – May 7, 2015
In open letter to Obama, Apple, Google, others urge Patriot Act not be renewed – March 26, 2015
Apple’s iOS encryption has ‘petrified’ the U.S. administration, governments around the world – March 19, 2015
Obama criticizes China’s demands for U.S. tech firms to hand over encryption keys, install backdoors – March 3, 2015
Apple CEO Tim Cook advocates privacy, says terrorists should be ‘eliminated’ – February 27, 2015
Apple’s Tim Cook warns of ‘dire consequences’ of sacrificing privacy for security – February 13, 2015
DOJ warns Apple: iPhone encryption will lead to a child dying – November 19, 2014
Apple’s iPhone encryption is a godsend, even if government snoops and cops hate it – October 8, 2014
Short-timer U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasts Apple for protecting users’ privacy against government overreach – September 30, 2014
FBI blasts Apple for protective users’ privacy by locking government, police out of iPhones and iPads – September 25, 2014
Apple thinks different about privacy – September 23, 2014
Me-too Google: Uh, okay, we’ll do default encryption like Apple, too (it’ll just take several years to roll out) – September 18, 2014
Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for government, police – even with search warrants – September 18, 2014
Apple CEO Tim Cook ups privacy to new level, takes direct swipe at Google – September 18, 2014
A message from Tim Cook about Apple’s commitment to your privacy – September 18, 2014
Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for police, even with search warrants – September 18, 2014
Would you trade privacy for national security? Most Americans wouldn’t – August 6, 2014
Apple begins encrypting iCloud email sent between providers – July 15, 2014
Obama administration demands master encryption keys from firms in order to conduct electronic surveillance against Internet users – July 24, 2013
U.S. NSA seeks to build quantum computer to crack most types of encryption – January 3, 2014
Apple, Google, others call for government surveillance reform – December 9, 2013
Apple’s iMessage encryption trips up U.S. feds’ surveillance – April 4, 2013

[Attribution: Fortune. Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]


    1. Apple has no information for the government to seize. But even if it did, which it doesn’t, the government is just being pissy and whiny. The U.S. Constitution allows warranted spying on people’s private correspondence. And law enforcement can still do this:

      • Get a search warrant
      • Seize a person’s iPhone
      • Demand the person’s password (of course they can take the fifth amendment here, but last I heard that’s still allowed by the Constitution)
      • Read their personal messages

      The Constitution also very explicitly states that any rights not explicitly defined in the Constitution are NOT implicitly granted.

      Maybe the U.S. Government should take a quick read through the U.S. Constitution. It might clear a lot of this up without the media dog-and-pony show.

      1. “The Constitution also very explicitly states that any rights not explicitly defined in the Constitution are NOT implicitly granted.”

        Don’t you mean “powers” – as in, powers not explicitly given the government are not implicitly given to it. The opposite is true of rights – the people and the states retain rights not taken by the Constitution, even if not explicitly granted. Early on, quite a few people argued against the necessity of the Bill of Rights, since it was arguably superfluous, and some feared that listing some rights would cause people to infer that rights not explicitly listed did not exist, which was considered false.

  1. The constitution states that searches should not be done without a warrant. So if the government brings Apple a warrant for that information, can they then comply? (no, it’s encrypted end to end). The question is “should they”?

    Based on a long-shot 1 in a million chance scenario that will probably never happen, let’s think about it. If a 9/11 style attack occurred in this country again with thousands dying and it was all carried out on an Apple iPhone because they could communicate securely and unimpeded, would apple be responsible? (I say no). However what if it was shown that for month’s leading up to the attack the government had suspected the specific people that carried out the attacks were going to do something and had issued several warrants to Apple to give them iMessage conversations and apple refused. Would then Apple be responsible? Or more importantly, would people’s perception of how safe it is to encrypt everything change?

    Don’t go getting panties in a bunch, this isn’t going to happen. The point is to make you think. What kind of overreaction happens fresh after an incident vs 10 years later when emotions are out and logical thinking can take over.

    I think if Apple can find a way to “leave a key under the doormat” for law enforcement that in no way whatsoever can be hacked (which I know is impossible) and that Apple fully and completely controls and only has to allow them access to if a warrant is served generated by a public court, then that would be a good compromise. (no secrets allowed basically).

    1. you tend to forget we (iphone users) are not all US citizens and personally I do not want a “foreign” country official like your government or Justice Department is for me to look into my text messages….

      1. That’s a good point. I was speaking from a US Government standpoint. Also, the compromise I envisioned would not be something the police or any government would have automatic access to. It would be something that Apple would have to grant on a per-user or per-device basis and would only apply to the governments to which the person is subject to their laws (meaning if you were in the US and breaking US laws, then the US Government could serve a publicly issued warrant to apple, but if you were not in the US, then they could not).

  2. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. — United States Constitution, Amendment IV”

    The 4th Amendment was written at a time, when privacy and security was a technicality. The premise being that every locked door could be opened. In spirit, the Constitution is correct. But I would think that 200 years ago, if the founding father wanted to get into your locked box, Constitution or not, they would do so, with or without your consent.

    Reasonable, probable cause, shared concern for the safety of the common good, with a check against the court, by obtaining a warrant – This is what has been described, and Apple has said it is technically impossible to provide access. They made the perfect lock box.

    The Constitution does not apply in this case, simply because it has been met. You could say the Government was looking for this situation so they can demand a key.

    I agree, if you provide a spare key, then others will stop at nothing to find it.

    We made our own mess by adopting technology and that keys are virtual. Two hundred years ago, the limitations of information, locked boxes and keys were, proximity.

    Is encryption the new limitation, equivalent to proximity?

    1. I wonder if the 4th Amendment protects correspondence/transmissions/communications that use an external resource (e.g. telephone lines, wireless, message servers, Postal/parcel service, etc.).. I’m not sure the amendment protects anything that has left your premises/device/hands.

  3. I agree with the basic premise that it would be nearly impossible to make iOS amenable to lawful searches pursuant to a proper warrant without also opening it up to hackers and other black hats (inside and outside the government). However, MDN and its readers should recognize that there is a real problem when criminals can communicate and store data in ways that cannot be reached by a proper warrant.

    Aside from that, I wish you would stop trotting out the utterly inapplicable quotes:

    The Fourth Amendment quite explicitly allows the government to access private information with a warrant, which is what this debate is really about. The fact that some cops have broken the law doesn’t negate that part of the Fourth Amendment any more than the fact that some gun owners have broken the law negates the Second Amendment. So stop quoting the 4th in an inappropriate context.

    The Franklin quote was originally about the liberty of the people’s elected representatives to adopt and enforce taxes even over the objections of a wealthy elite who were willing to “purchase safety” by making one-time contributions to Pennsylvania’s defense if the legislature surrendered its taxing authority. Again, not remotely applicable to this situation.

    Using the Patrick Henry quotation about “chains and slavery” ignores the fact that Henry had more slaves in chains than any other planter in the Colonies. Again, not applicable except in irony.

    1. I assume by “terrorists” you mean right-wing wackos. But how can we keep data from people like Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, or, god forbid, Trump, if we put the key under the mat for them?

      1. I don’t see much of a difference between the two. I do know that birds use two wings to fly straight.

        One wing instigating torture and crimes against humanity with that unethical and immoral war is horrible. The other wing saying “we tortured some folks” and then following up in Pontius Pilate fashion saying that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” is pretty indicative of how rotten to the core that entire organization is.

        A strong society made up of a population that has a sense of justice would have brought those who instigated such torture and crimes against humanity to justice a long time ago.

        Looks like it’s all in karma’s hands now.

      2. I have to agree with Road Warrior. In comments over at ‘The Guardian’ this morning, several people were arguing over this point. The best conclusion was that extremists at BOTH ends of the imaginary 1 dimensional political spectrum become totalitarian. Extremes at both ends immediately fail and fall into totalitarianism, which is to say that they both require surveillance of the populace in order keep the people under the thrall of their worthless systems. It’s the same old story about there being no such thing as a viable monoculture.

        OR, to quote ‘Jack of Shadows’ over at ‘The Register’:

        Do recall that the current executive has prosecuted (persecuted) more people under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined. Similar comparisons have been drawn about leaks, including reporters and the entire bureau they work for, and whistleblowers.

        Given that track record do you think this President, his Attorney-General, the rest of the DoJ, and various investigatory agencies are going to allow some upstart tech companies to stand in their way?

        The really sad part is the other team is even more gung-ho to torch the Constitution.

        I don’t know about that last statement. But I do know that neither left nor right extremists fully support the US Constitution, especially our citizen rights to privacy and due process.

        1. Why thank you for the support Derek. Your posts are always insightful and the ones on this topic seems to point to me that it’s time for the people of the u.s. to take matters into their hands as they have had to do so before. Until they do, the situation will persist until….

          1. That statement certainly fits with the modern american psyche, if the u.s. is no longer civilized and free then neither is the rest of the world.

            Reminds me of another country essentiall saying at one point: “if we don’t have Jews no one is going to have Jews.”

  4. If we compare encryption to a safe with a combination lock, then we could easily see how the safe manufacturer simply can’t give the government that combination, no matter how many courts sign warrants, since the only person that has the combination is the owner of that safe. The safe manufacturers don’t make ‘back doors’, nor are they expected to make them.

    Data encryption should be the same.

  5. (I’ve posted this in a couple places on the net. I might as well post it in this good old place as well).


    [Insert Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution HERE]

    Now Apple, how about turning the OS X firewall ON by default? And how about entirely REMOVING ‘Open “safe” files after downloading’ from Safari? And how about swift, immediate, ASAP patching of security vulnerabilities in OS X and iOS? All of these would be equally helpful to your customers.

    And to FBI director James Comey: We The People rule the USA, NOT any government. We The People run our government. The government serves the people and its wishes. The government does not run the people, despite their wishes. No ‘1984’ scenario is welcome in my country. You’ve already proven, dear government, that you cannot be trusted. Therefore, deal with the consequences of your deceit.

    1. You are on target.

      First thing I do on a new Mac is turn on the Firewall, turn off Safari keychain and autofill, kill opening of ‘safe’ files, install AV and SW firewall (Intego, currently) and Disconnect VPN.

      As usual, do not run your Admin account as your user account for an added protection.

      I would remind iOS users and OS X users that if you have iCloud backup on, your files are already open to intercept.

      1. Backup up password protected, encrypted sparse bundle disk images to the cloud is how to get around the wide open file snooping. I’ve done it for years now with great success. Make them in Apple’s Disk Utility app.

        I use Intego as well for AV. Their reverse firewall is fine, but I bought Little Snitch first and enjoy it.

  6. The government doesn’t need Apple’s help. It they decided that the US Constitution doesn’t apply to them, they they should just go in and conduct all the searches they want. Warrant? Who needs a warrant! The constitution doesn’t apply to them.

  7. One possible other solution may be to disregard decryption of messages altogether and Apple providing a way to deny iMessage services for the suspected AppleIDs on proper request from the authorities. This would remove one line of communications from the criminals.

  8. Go Feds! Clap the brackets on that twink and haul his sphincter to the slammer if he pouts and resists. Cram a cattle prod up his bunghole and light him up too if needed! Go Feds, Go FBI!

  9. Fucking government. I’ve had enough of my accounts hacked, I don’t need the one last thing I feel safe about being hacked too. Apple is all we have left. If this goes to shit too, then I’ll be forced to just keep all my personal things out of the cloud, no longer shop online, and just talk to people in person.

  10. Chief Justice Roberts in an opinion on searching physical devices told the cops “get a warrant”. As to stalking their encrypted conversations- the phones would not have to be encrypted if the NSA, NIST and others did not do everything- legal and illegal- to destroy the privacy rights of Americans.

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