Apple could be forced to stop completely encrypting iPhones and services under UK law

Apple Security

Apple and government officials have been publicly sparring over how to handle privacy and encryption for months, and new rules expected to be proposed in the UK on Wednesday might make Apple’s position much harder to maintain.

The issue boils down to Apple allowing iPhone users to encrypt data behind a password — encryption that Apple can’t break through — and government officials wanting access in instances where de-encrypting smartphones could help law enforcement and security efforts. Services like iMessage and FaceTime are also encrypted end-to-end.

Now The Telegraph reports that the Investigatory Powers Bill being introduced on Wednesday will likely require Apple and other companies to hold a key to encrypted smartphones and services, giving access to government agencies when a warrant is issued.

Should the bill become law, Apple would be forced to stop encrypting iPhones, iMessage, and FaceTime beyond its access. Apple has used its strong approach to encryption as a product feature worth marketing and strongly disagreed with government officials that say Apple has created a safe haven for criminal activity.

While measures within the bill haven’t been publicly revealed yet, The Telegraph says it will also require Internet companies to maintain user browsing data for one year. The bill is said to be a controversial one in terms of government reach and privacy implications, but one with the support of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Back in the US, the Department of Justice pushed forward by saying that Apple should be forced to grant access to iOS devices when asked by the government because the software running on iPhones is licensed, not sold.

DOJ and FBI officials have reportedly voiced frustration to the White House at Apple winning the encryption fight with little push back from higher-ups in the government, publicly saying last year that Apple’s stance would eventually stop law enforcement officials from preventing heinous crimes. Apple is among several voices that asked President Obama not to back measures that would force Apple to change its encryption policy like the ones being proposed in the UK this week.

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  1. 89p13 - 7 years ago

    And I would have expected Uncle Sam to try to implement this rule / law first!

    We are entering the Big Brother Age. Beware, people, your rights are really being taken away from you.

    • jtnicandro - 7 years ago

      Do I sense a reference to the book 1984?

    • lkrupp215 - 7 years ago

      So what do YOU personally plan to do about it other than posting dire warnings?

      • 89p13 - 7 years ago

        Always keep current generation iPhone with the last iOS that remains encrypted.

  2. I’m afraid UK law doesn’t affect an American company. The UK could ban the sales of iPhones, but they can’t make Apple comply.

    • Alan Aurmont - 7 years ago

      If UK threaten Apple to ban iPhone sales, pretty sure Apple will comply.

      • I’m pretty sure people in the UK would do the job if authorities threatened Apple this way.

      • jkdman123 - 7 years ago

        I hope Apple says, ‘No more iPhones for the UK.’ First of all, the UK probably isn’t that large a market that it would make a tremendous hit on Apple’s bottom line. Secondly, it would send a huge message to the UK govt.

      • jkdman123 – yeah because the UK government (or any government for that matter) is REAL SCARED of a tech business.

        Seriously, what planet do some folk live on?

      • aaronh - 7 years ago

        They don’t have to be afraid of the tech company. They have to be afraid of voters that like their iPhones a lot more than they like their politicians.

    • Exactly, cant see them banning sales either as there would be a huge furore and considering more people are becoming obsessed with their own data, they’ll just start hiding their traffic behind VPNs and other obfuscation tools.

    • Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

      The UK can ban Apple operating in the UK – they can also make it so phones purchased outside of the UK wont work on UK networks – similar to how china blocks apple news

  3. chrisl84 - 7 years ago

    Those Brits trying to ruin it for everyone

  4. rettun1 - 7 years ago

    Interesting that these types of policies are favored by the same party that doesn’t want to regulate business in any way (although there is bipartisan support for rules like this) You can’t have it both ways, Red. I guess Federal Freedom > individual + corporate freedom? I’ll be pretty sad if this gets passed into law, establishment politics is getting pretty drab.

    And lol I dunno why saying that David Cameron supports it eases the worries that it’s an overreaching bill. He’s establishment thru and thru, and his head looks like and egg with a lil face painted on

  5. Joe Dowdell - 7 years ago

    I’m pretty sure the UK wants Apple’s business and tax revenue more than Apple needs to sell iPhones there. Couldn’t Apple just threaten to pull out of that market? All the UK needs is millions of angry customers rioting because the government has some position that forces Apple to leave.

    • Yet another completely delusional comment. What you been smoking fella – can I have some?

      • Chad Hill (@JavaChilly) - 7 years ago

        Aunty, stop being a troll with your worthless replies and communicate WHY you think those of us who think Apple can afford to stop selling iOS devices in the UK are wrong. From where I see things, Apple knows it will still sell them through secondary markets and illegal importers, so it surely won’t suffer the loss. There are only 63 million people there. Figure half of them can afford these things? 31.5 million. Maybe you just think there’s a lot more of you because you’re on tiny islands. :-D

  6. depicus - 7 years ago

    The Telegraph – not sure they are much better than The Daily Star nowadays – but even on the 1% change they actually reported a fact it will do nothing to curb terrorism as those already past grunt level will use their own encryption software, indeed this was one of the reasons Github was temporarily banned in India because it hosted encryption software used by terrorists. Well it will at least keep the blue rinse happy.

    • Gregory Wright - 7 years ago

      Forget terrorism – what about the police investigating everyday crimes. Should a smartphone enjoy greater protection from the police than a home? Surely, if the police can enter a home with a warrant, a smartphone entry is far less intrusive than a home.

      • airmanchairman - 7 years ago

        The Police and other security services already have powerful forensic tools to break the encryption of any high-end smartphone. Endless cost-cutting and draconian power-grabbing encroachments indicate that they can’t be bothered to do so, and want to shift both the onus and cost of decrypting smartphones onto their manufacturers, saving revenue and gaining undue leverage in one fell swoop.

        I say undue leverage because the percentage of smartphone users under criminal or other nefarious investigation is a minuscule fraction of the total smartphone-using population, and the right to snoop into the affairs of the law-abiding vast majority is apparently an irresistible magnet for those that crave more power than their ethics would warrant.

      • degraevesofie - 7 years ago

        (a) A smartphone entry may not be “less intrusive” than a home. It depends on what you keep in your home and in your smartphone.

        (b) Given a warrant for inspection of property of someone, it’s up to that someone to comply or face consequences.

  7. primematrix - 7 years ago

    I have absolutely nothing to hide, but I do not want this to pass!!! I am sick of everyone in the government using my data, or people selling my data!

  8. The conservative government here really suck. Is there nothing here they’re not trying to fuck up?

  9. Robert - 7 years ago

    Apple would possibly take this to the ECHR.

    Also as a company operating internationally with corporations and data centers in multiple lands Apple must seek to be somewhat politically neutral. If they are forced to hand over data to the US or UK governments then what about handing data over to Russia or China or some other government? Apple cannot be expected to decide which government gets what. The simple solution is: they all get nothing!

  10. mikhailt - 7 years ago

    These governments are a bunch of idiots if they truly believe this will work. We went through this already through the first crypto war back in early 90s. Nothing has changed for this new crypto war and they will fucking lose again.

    The bad guys will simply build their own devices and use their own custom encryption code. Encryption cannot be banned, it is a math formula. Anyone can do it. Forcing companies to do this would only harm the law-abiding citizens, not the bad guys, period.

    The day we allow the government to give up our privacy for the sake of security is the day we no longer deserve anything.

    • 89p13 - 7 years ago

      Well said and I completely agree with you. As Edward R Murrow said, “A nation of sheep will begat a government of wolves” – and that may not be the exact quote, but the idea is there!

  11. louiethelug72 - 7 years ago

    Sorry about all the CAPS… This Subject Just Bothers The Ever Loving Sh*t Out Of ME.
    They Have Been Trying To BREAK APPLE Down For YEARS & Apple Stands Strong….
    Think about if Snowden never came out with what the government is capable of…I mean We all Kinda Knew what was going on but Now No Better..!!!

    I Call Bullshit on this Government anti-encryption battle crap…

    • 89p13 - 7 years ago

      It also seems to me – sorry, Brits – that David Cameron is just a lap dog to the Washignton Politicians. If the UK passes this legislation, the USA won’t be far behind.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        David Cameron stuck his dick inside of a dead pig…

  12. This is an non-winning prospect for the UK. And an easy victory for Apple should they hold strong. If the UK has its way, this will also affect Google and/or whomever else sells a phone in the UK. Now if Apple says, NO, and other companies say yes, how to these other companies market that? How do they convince the world that their data is safe when they have to admit that it’s not, full stop. That keys exist in multiple hands outside of the owner’s own? Sorry, that’s not going to cut it going forward.

  13. This is like the 80’s and 90s all over again with export and other bans and restrictions on encryption. FFS.

  14. usmansaghir - 7 years ago

    Bullshit!! This is why I voted labour!! No one hold the right to read my data but me! I am the official owner of my product! I do what i want with it (within limits)

  15. Gregory Wright - 7 years ago

    With a warrant is fair enough. No one has the right to violate the law and get away with it.

  16. Grayson Mixon - 7 years ago

    if pressed, Apple could stop selling in the UK. It’s not a huge market, but they wouldn’t have to wait long. With angry people who vote in elections, the people who had a hand in the encryption ban would be voted out, but they wouldn’t actually have to be voted out. The threat of being voted out would be enough to get them to reverse their stance. Remember, politicians are motivated by re-election. They’re bluffing, and Apple is big enough to call their bluff.

    • drgeert - 7 years ago

      Agree. It would even benefit Apple, as it makes their story very clear.

  17. srgmac - 7 years ago

    What a perfect question to ask the 2016 candidates in the USA — would you force a tech company to stop encrypting their products — how much you want a bet no one would EVER ask that to anyone in any televised debate though? I doubt it would even be asked to the Democratic candidates, and most of them are anti-NSA.

    • aaronh - 7 years ago

      “I doubt it would even be asked to the Democratic candidates, and most of them are anti-NSA.”

      Citation needed.

  18. I feel sorry for the British people. They have rapidly fallen into being ruled by a tyranny. They have no rights and are not allowed to have any weapons to defend themselves, pretty soon there won’t be any knives… And now their government wants to spy on them whenever it wants and however it wants. I’m sure the prior rulers there are rolling in their graves.

    • Ian Eiloart - 7 years ago

      Captain Obnoxious is being really obnoxious here. We have a democracy, and the idea of using weapons to defend ourselves from a democratically elected government is ludicrous. We’re much safer here in the UK, from either criminal or state violence than you are in the USA, and I put that down to the absence of guns in our communities. I’m involved in local politics, and I maintain that the primary responsibility of politics is to give people a non-violent means of dispute resolution. Armed revolution is failure.

    • Apaches911 - 7 years ago

      Won’t happen in the UK. This is rubbish, but I love the click bait article, and the usual response from the rednecks saying “well just stop selling iPhone to Brits”. The UK is an important market to Apple for many reasons, and is always in the first tranch of product releases. There is a reason for that.

      Just my opinion! The UK is a free country and that doesnt need guns to kill each other with!

      The US has the ‘Freedom’ to kill each other and cry at YET ANOTHER mass killing of children and then the NRA suggest arming the teachers! More guns! The politicians don’t have balls to do something about it because of the NRA lobby. Excuse me for being equally ‘obnoxious’ as you!

  19. triankar - 7 years ago

    The UK has always leaned towards being a police state and the idea of citizen privacy was always kind of alien to its lords. So, no surprises here. Very glad I left that place in the end… (lived 5 years there)

  20. drgeert - 7 years ago

    I have the feeling that Apple would just give up the UK market if this went through.

  21. varera (@real_varera) - 7 years ago

    i would rather have apple withdraw completely from UK. preposterous.

  22. Ian Eiloart - 7 years ago

    Apple discontinued Mac Pro sales in the whole of the EU in March 2013, until the new cylindrical model was produced. They didn’t comply with new safety regulations on fans and electrical sockets. Apple chose not to make minor modifications, forgoing nine months of sales.

    It’s unlikely that they’ll want to support two versions of iOS, one for the UK and one for the rest of the world. And the UK can’t ban imports from Europe.

    Apple Store coming to Calais, perhaps?

    • They couldn’t run 2 versions of iOS it would break the law in alternative countries, i live in Norway but buy in the UK so the software would be open in Norway even though the phone is not legally required to be, and updates, how would that work key available just because i upgrade in the UK…? Its impossible to get this right, i am all fro Apple pulling out of the UK with phones, the business the UK would lose would be horrendous, the tax/vat sales etc would simply not benefit the government to push this through if Apple refused to play ball… Added to that you can’t force onto devices already in existence, it will create a market for used iPhones where they could possibly be worth more 2nd hand than the new ones as the criminals would simply buy them up with old iOS ;)

      • Ian Eiloart - 7 years ago

        Actually, VAT would be less of an issue for the UK government than in the past. Likely UK iPhone customers would buy online from some European store. In that case, VAT would be payable to the UK government at the UK government rate. That changed on 1 Jan 2015: previously VAT was payable at the rate in the seller’s country (eg 3% to the Luxembourg government for iTunes music store sales).

        Of course, there would be a reduction in sales, since it would not be possible to sell iPhones in Apple stores, or network provider stores. But my guess is that’s not the bulk of sales.

  23. Joel Bradshaw - 7 years ago

    Simple, stop doing business in any country trying to force you to compromise end user privacy. That would send the populace SCREAMING to their representatives doors. Compromising privacy to ensure security never EVER works that way. All you get is compromised privacy, not better security.

  24. kpom1 - 7 years ago

    As soon as companies are forced to install “back doors” hackers will exploit them.

  25. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    If apple are forced to stop encrypting and protecting our privacy – how about the government forced to stop encrypting all their stuff and keeping secrets from the the public – if they are questioning what we have to hide, surely we should question what they have to hide from the people… it’s a two way street!!!

  26. Apaches911 - 7 years ago

    Oh what a surprise. This click bait Brit bashing story WAS proved to be Bullshit. No such proposals made. Just bad journalism! Shame on you Zac

  27. Winski - 7 years ago

    So the UK wants to see all and do all with ko ramifications, we should encourage the rest of Europe to excile the UK since they won’t be part of the EU anymore, and then close them off from EVERYTHING that goes on worldwide…. The attitude will change…


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.