Apple Will Streamline Data Requests for Law Enforcement

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The constant push and pull between privacy interests and law enforcement continues to play out in the products and services coming from the world's largest tech company. At the same time that Apple is working to make its iPhones more difficult for cops to unlock, the tech giant is also trying to make access to user data easier for law enforcement personnel.

According to a letter to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Apple will be unveiling a new portal for law enforcement to submit and track requests for user data related to investigations, along with training programs on accessing and deciphering digital evidence. The feature is expected to go live later this year.

"We believe that law enforcement agencies play a critical role in keeping our society safe and we've always maintained that if we have information we will make it available when presented with valid legal process," Apple states on its Government Information Requests page. "By the end of 2018 we will begin the launch of an online portal for authenticated law enforcement officers globally to submit lawful requests for data, track requests, and obtain responsive data from Apple." Currently, the company receives and responds to information requests via email.

While the portal is expected to expedite the information-sharing process, Apple asserts it still requires a search warrant for all U.S. requests for user account content. The company has also maintained that there is no "backdoor" or master key to any of its products or services, and claimed that creating one would only risk giving access to bad actors.

Unlocking Criminal Information

"As more data ends up online and on our devices, we have to come up with new, smart ways for tech companies and law enforcement to unlock information that can solve crimes," Senator Whitehouse said in a statement to the Washington Post. Part of unlocking that information includes properly training law enforcement on accessing user data.

"We are building a team of professionals dedicated to training law enforcement officers globally, which will significantly increase our ability to reach smaller police forces and agencies," Apple said, revealing an online training module for law enforcement officers. Officers will also be able to apply for "authentication credentials" once the portal goes live. "This will assist Apple in training a larger number of law enforcement agencies and officers globally, and ensure that our company's information and guidance can be updated to reflect the rapidly changing data landscape."

So, while Apple may make it more difficult for cops to crack your passcode, fingerprint, or face ID, they may not need it to get access to your user data.

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