It isn’t easy for anyone, even law enforcement agencies like the ATF, to break into an encrypted iPhone. They are often forced to look for help from Apple itself. The rise in requests from law enforcement agencies has compelled the Cupertino company to create a waiting list to get to the data of alleged bad guys.
Currently, that means 7 weeks or more before requests can be fulfilled.
According to CNET:
An agent at the ATF, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “contacted Apple to obtain assistance in unlocking the device,” U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell wrote in a recent opinion. But, she wrote, the ATF was “placed on a waiting list by the company.”
What does this mean from a privacy perspective? The company has not released its policy on fulfilling requests made by law enforcement, so it’s currently unknown whether or not they require a warrant. It wouldn’t be required in most cases as they are normally confiscated from those who have already been arrested. Not all requests fall into this category, meaning that the company should either request a warrant or another document (such as an arrest record) demonstrating that the law enforcement agency is not trouncing on the Fourth Amendment with their requests.
It seems, however, that they have their hands full with the technology requests alone. Vetting out proper documentation is likely low on their priority lists.
Google has similar abilities with Android phones but takes a small step towards increased privacy. They won’t break into the phones (technically) but they will reset the password. This causes the user to be notified.
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