Privacy

Encrypted iPhones

Apple locks mobile data

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Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, has a new security feature. Users' phones will encrypt stored data by default, making that data inaccessible to Apple-even when the government is involved. As the company explained in the privacy note for iOS 8, "It's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data."

Apple is using this as a selling point. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data," the company says on its website.

Google followed by announcing that the next iteration of its own mobile operating system, Android, will also encrypt data by default. The current version of Android allows users to choose to have their data encrypted, but this is not the default setting.

Apple can still access data saved onto its cloud storage service and, presumably, will continue to be compelled to honor government demands for that data. In its privacy note, Apple explains that "if we are legally compelled to divulge any information and it is not counterproductive to the facts of the case, we provide notice to the customer when allowed and deliver the narrowest set of information possible in response."

In the first half of 2014, Apple reports, American law enforcement served it with 4,132 "device requests" for 13,743 separate devices. According to Apple, the vast majority of these were in order to recover a stolen mobile phone. The company says it has received 789 "account requests" for 1,739 separate accounts, representing requests that are part of criminal or other law enforcement investigations.

Apple received fewer than 250 national security orders in the first half of 2014. By law, the company is not allowed to say more about those requests than that.

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