DOJ says Apple should be forced to unlock encrypted user data if asked by government


Earlier this week, Apple stated that it would be nearly impossible for it to access the data on a passcode-locked iOS device running iOS 8 or later. The company also noted, however, that even if it were possible, it would not feel comfortable doing so as to not tarnish the trust it shares with its customers. The Department of Justice has now dismissed that argument, saying that Apple should be required to unlock encrypted data because iOS is “licensed, not sold” to customers (via DailyDot).

“Apple designed, manufactured, and sold [the phone] that is the subject of the search warrant,” the government told U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein. “But that is only the beginning of Apple’s relationship to the phone and to this matter. Apple wrote and owns the software that runs the phone, and this software is thwarting the execution of the warrant.”

The specific case in which the U.S. government needs an iPhone unlocked relates to executing a search warrant on a suspect indicted for possession of methamphetamine. Apple argues that decrypting a phone in one case would set a precedent that would only burden the company in the future, taxing its resources, employees, software, and equipment. “This burden,” Apple said, “increases as the number of government requests increases.”

The DOJ, of course, rejected this argument, saying that Apple shows no attempt to quantify the burden of which it speaks, nor does it show any evidence.

Apple also argues that aiding government requests for user data would hurt its reputation to the public due to the level to which sensitivity to digital privacy has risen. The company says that this harm to its reputation to could have a lasting economic impact. Earlier this week, Tim Cook spoke out against software backdoors, again voicing Apple’s support for privacy for its customers

As you would expect, the DOJ also rejects this argument, again saying Apple provided no concrete evidence to support its claims.

The government rejected this argument, saying that Apple offered no concrete evidence that reputational concerns constituted an “undue burden” as defined by law.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel


  1. No burden to Apple? Try the fact that I won’t buy Android already because of these type of issues and if Apple decides to comply I’ll stop buying them as well. Plenty of companies outside of the United States are willing to step up to the plate and fill this hole and I’ll gladly take my business out of an amazing ecosystem of Apple products to less superior products from outside the states to get the privacy I like many other Americans hold so dearly.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      Lol…90% of Android phones come with full-disk-encryption out of the box, enabled. The other 10% support it, but don’t come with it enabled — all you have to do is turn it on. The keys are not stored anywhere else besides on the device, so no law enforcement could not force Google to decrypt it. The reason why Apple wins here, is because of iMessage though. iMessage is end to end encrypted, and Apple does not have the keys. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that any and all messages sent using iMessages can not be intercepted during transmission, making a man-in-the-middle attack nearly impossible, and can not be accessed afterwords either. I don’t even have texting on my phone anymore — I use iMessage for everything. And the best part is that all Macs support iMessage as well, so if I want to talk with someone, they don’t even need an iPhone, they just need a Mac with the Messages app running and signed in. A lot of Android fans I know use Google Voice, which is the total opposite of this — all messages are sent in plain text and stored on Google’s servers — they do use SSL, which is good, but there have been several SSL related hacks in the past few years, plus if LE wants, they can ask Google for a full log, and they get it within 48 hours. They can also do Man-in-the-middle attacks, and make you think you’re talking to someone, but that person is really a LEO.

    • Howie Isaacks - 7 years ago

      Wow! What a way to be supportive of Apple! You’re a moron if you think that any other company would provide the same level of security that Apple does. What OS would these other phones run? Android? Windows? What you don’t seem to understand is that to produce a well evolved and mature OS that includes the kind of security features that iOS provides takes a lot of money. What other companies can fund the development of an OS like iOS?

    • Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

      If they get Apple to comply, then it’s a forgone conclusion that they’ll get all tech companies to do the same thing. it’s not Apple’s fault, it’s the government’s desire to get devices unlocked without the user’s password/fingerprint access.

  2. This is the USA, and privacy is an unalienable right, so no evidence of its claims are needed.

    • standardpull - 7 years ago

      It sounds like you’re not from the USA. There is no right to privacy here. Take a look in that constitution. It ain’t there.

      • kpom1 - 7 years ago

        We have unenumerated rights protected by the 9th and 14th Amendments. Just because something isn’t explicit in the Constitution doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The right to travel isn’t written, but it is considered so fundamental that it didn’t need to be written. The Supreme Court has ruled that the 14th Amendment provides certain privacy rights.

        Also, the 4th Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure. The police need a warrant to access the contents of your smartphone, for instance.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Absolutely right. The US Constitution never uses the word “privacy” — not even once. It is not mentioned…A lot of people don’t know that.
        There are some very narrow examples in the Bill of Rights, but still, there is no fundamental inalienable right to privacy.
        This is something that we can change, however, with a constitutional amendment, but I doubt any of the shills in congress would want to do that.
        I bet if someone even brought it up, they would be called a “terrorist” in about 5 seconds, and be personally blamed for the “next” terrorist attack in the next sentence.

      • Howie Isaacks - 7 years ago

        While there is no specific written right of privacy, the 4th, and 5th amendments imply a recognition of an individual’s right of privacty. Furthermore, the 9th amendment states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The framers of the Constitution would never have stood for this kind of tryranny from the federal government. The bill of rights was enacted specifically to protect the people and the states from a power hungry federal government.

      • It’s a serious mistake to think that only rights listed in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights exist, or that individual rights are granted by the Constitution. Instead, the rights and roles of the central government are what is defined by the document– and more importantly, limited.

        One of the main arguments against the Bill of Rights at the time of its adoption was this notion that other rights are somehow precluded, or that that would be how things might be interpreted. The eventual compromise is expressed in the 9th and 10th Amendments:

        Article the eleventh [Amendment IX]: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

        Article the twelfth [Amendment X]: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  3. strawbis - 7 years ago

    Sounds like the DoJ is using Apple’s ownership of the OS to beat it to death with. The only escape seems to be giving the rights of OS ownership to the client! But that’s not about to happen – so watch for a future iOS update that allows Apple to access your device. :(((

    • chrish1961 - 7 years ago

      I don’t think Apple will ever build in back door access to the device. The company has enough money to drag this through the courts for years, and I believe they will. Privacy isn’t an Apple business tactic. It’s a core value.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      Apple would never do this — not in a million years. They don’t need to, they are one of the most powerful and wealthy corporations on planet earth. People like and respect THEM more than they like and respect the government, lol. In a PR fight, Apple would win, hands down.

    • Then maybe all Apple has to do is say when you buy the iPhone, you own the OS as well, but you only have a license to use it on one device and you tie the license to the IMEI number of that device. O, and you only get the compiled code. “Here’s your OS that you can’t do anything with, but you own it” :-)

  4. Lee Mahi - 7 years ago

    Omg. Stand your ground Apple. Don’t give them an inch!

  5. Well if the DOJ is using this as a way to look into people personal lives then the Land of the Free is now a caged country. Erect the electrified fences and declare martial law.

  6. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    The DOJ thinks the DOJ should have unlimited power. Why is anybody surprised by this? That’s the price of Big Government. The current administration thinks 1984 was an instruction manual.

  7. srgmac - 7 years ago

    The first argument, legally, is bullshit — this would not place any burden on Apple if they were actually forced to decrypt the device by the DoJ. I’m sure they would be paid for their time. That is, provided they are working with one of the older iOS versions. Anything that is iOS 8 ( I think this is when it started ) and up though — no way, can’t be done — it WOULD place a burden on Apple because it’s technically impossible, heh. This would be a burden for anyone… The second argument is definitely more noteworthy… Apple has always spoken out against backdoors and favored encryption, for the past 10 years or so, especially when invited to the White House and other tech summits. So, for them to just pony up and get in bed with the government here, after all this time of speaking out for personal privacy — yeah, it’s reasonable to assume that it WOULD hurt their rep. with their customers, and this would end up costing them financially. Not sure what kind of concrete evidence they are supposed to provide — but I guess you can show examples of many companies that have gone out of business (ie. Lavabit) because of government surveillance.

  8. jimgramze - 7 years ago

    Apple needs to add attorney/client privilege into its user agreement. They could claim a dollar of the price is a retainer.

  9. Caleb Harrison - 7 years ago

    This is an extremely important issue. I commend Apple for standing strong against this lawless DOJ.

  10. jmiko2015 - 7 years ago

    DOJ acts like a bunch of idiots. Meanwhile Apple added middle finger into iOS. Coincidence? I think not.

  11. standardpull - 7 years ago

    So the DOJ is saying that in the US, people are not allowed to use effective encryption without providing decryption keys to a corporation in advance.

  12. If Apple ever gives in to this I’ll become a permanent user of cyber dust or BB Messenger. I am so sick of the government thinking they can just spy on us at will. You have a right against self-incrimination, and messages sent via a cell phone are the equivalent of talking to someone. You can’t force me to tell you who I talked to or what I said to them, so why should you be able to read my messages?

  13. freerange5 - 7 years ago

    This is real simple. If they already have the evidence to make an arrest and prosecute this case, there is absolutely no reason to gain access to the defendant’s phone. Privacy is a fundamental right protected by the consitution. DOJ, do your job with the resources you have. Period. Building back doors threatens us all!

  14. webzpinner - 7 years ago

    There is a right to privacy… Because the constitution quite clearly says, in the Bill of Rights, that the constitution states what the government can and cannot do, and any rights not expressly mentioned, are retained by the individual or by the state government, where applicable.the government has no right to your phone data any more then they have a right to your mail, medical records, etc… They don’t. Not without overwhelming evidence to secure from a judge. I fully endorse and support apple in fighting the encroachment by “Big Brother” government. The more freedoms we give up in the name of safety, the less we have of either freedom or safety.

  15. Just a quick question that may or may not of been thought of before, but the item (iPhone) in question, which is subject to a warrant, does not only hold software and as such data from only 1 party. Surely, the data held could be held by other Apps, and as such, while thinking that Apple would be the key to unlocking the data, the actually warrant, should include the App providers of all Apps on the item (phone) in question as well. As the data is held within the Apps. So as an example, if the warrant could be forced upon Apple (if they could) unlock, the data held within the actual App which is also licensed, would fall under a separate warrant if say, the App in question was for example WhatsApp or Skype etc for call details… Not sure how that could be presented as a manor for illegal search as the warrant is saying that as Apple license they retain ownership which in itself would pass down to Apps that are not owned and if opened could be perceived as an illegal search surely…?

  16. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    if you are not doing anything illegal, then you have nothing to worry about, right???

    • I’ma let you speak, but first allow me to congratulate you for bringing up the most idiotic argument of all time. Sheesh. I really do hope you are writing sarcastically.

  17. vkd108 - 7 years ago

    It is my opinion that this is all just smokescreen bullshit. Apple are hand-in-hand with US government, all world controlling parties however you care to term them, etc. Sooner or later there will be an outcome, but Apple are in no way innocent as they like to portray themselves. They are just as guilty as the bastard demons oppressing the world civilisation.


Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

Tips, questions, typos to