The bureau said all devices must contain backdoors to allow for “lawful access by design”.
The FBI has issued a warning about upcoming security updates for Apple products, insisting the company’s plans to strengthen end-to-end encryption will interfere with efforts to track down criminals and terrorists.
The agency sounded alarms soon after Apple announced several “advanced security features” set to be introduced in the coming months – including new protections for files stored in the cloud – telling the Washington Post it is “deeply concerned with the threat end-to-end and user-only-access encryption pose.”
“This hinders our ability to protect the American people from criminal acts ranging from cyber-attacks and violence against children to drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism,” an unnamed FBI spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday. “In this age of cybersecurity and demands for ‘security by design,’ the FBI and law enforcement partners need ‘lawful access by design.’”
US and allied law enforcement officials have long demanded tech firms to provide open access to all devices, with the FBI frequently citing the aftermath of a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, when agents were unable to access an Apple phone used by the shooter. Though the bureau pressed the company to help, Apple refused, leading to a lengthy legal battle centered on encryption.
Between 2015 and 2016 alone, Apple received at least 11 separate court orders to help police access various devices thought to be involved in criminal activity, but objected to all of them. A New York City court would later conclude that Apple could not be compelled to unlock its phones on the basis of the 1789 All Writs Act, which the FBI had repeatedly cited in prior cases.
Alongside agencies in the UK and Australia, the US Department of Justice has placed similar pressure on other tech giants in the past. In 2019, the three countries issued an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which argued that “companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content.” Officials suggested encryption could interfere with investigations into “the most serious crimes,” effectively asking for the ability to crack any device at any time.
Privacy advocates, including famed national security whistleblower Edward Snowden, have pushed back on the drive to undermine strong encryption, saying it is impossible to create a backdoor exclusively for law enforcement, and that any such security loophole will also be open to others, including bad actors.