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."A search warrant affidavit prepared by ATF agent Rob Maynard says that, for nearly three months last summer, he "attempted to locate a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency with the forensic capabilities to unlock" an iPhone 4S. But after each police agency responded by saying they "did not have the forensic capability," Maynard resorted to asking Cupertino.
Because the waiting list had grown so long, there would be at least a 7-week delay, Maynard says he was told by Joann Chang, a legal specialist in Apple's litigation group, It's alone in the woods iphone case unclear how long the process took, but it appears to have been at least four months, The documents shed new light on the increasingly popular law enforcement practice of performing a forensic analysis on encrypted mobile devices -- a practice that can, when done without a warrant, raise Fourth Amendment concerns, Last year, leaked training materials prepared by the Sacramento sheriff's office included a form that would require Apple to "assist law enforcement agents" with "bypassing the cell phone user's passcode so that the agents may search the iPhone." Google takes a more privacy-protective approach: it "resets the password and further provides the reset password to law enforcement," the materials say, which has the side effect of notifying the user that his or her cell phone has been compromised..
Ginger Colbrun, ATF's public affairs chief, told CNET that "ATF cannot discuss specifics of ongoing investigations or litigation. ATF follows federal law and DOJ/department-wide policy on access to all communication devices."In a separate case in Nevada last year, federal agents acknowledged to a judge that they were having trouble examining a seized iPhone and iPad because of password and encryption issues. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has been stymied by encryption used in Apple's iMessage chat service, according to an internal document obtained by CNET last month.
Bypassing Apple's securityThe ATF's Maynard said in an affidavit for the Kentucky case that Apple "has the capabilities to bypass the security software" and "download the contents of the phone to an external memory device." Chang, the Apple legal specialist, told him that "once the Apple analyst bypasses the passcode, the data will be downloaded onto a USB external drive" and delivered to the ATF, It's not clear whether that means Apple has created a backdoor for police -- which has been the topic of alone in the woods iphone case speculation in the past -- whether the company has custom hardware that's faster at decryption, or whether it simply is more skilled at using the same procedures available to the government, Apple declined to discuss its law enforcement policies when contacted this week by CNET..
Mobile device users should take this as a warning that Google and Apple can provide access to data stored on an encrypted device at least in some circumstances, says Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "That is something that I don't think most people realize," Soghoian says. "Even if you turn on disk encryption with a password, these firms can and will provide the government with a way to get your data."An August 2012 article in MIT Technology Review by Simson Garfinkel, an associate professor at the U.S. military's Naval Postgraduate School, says "Apple customers' content" is so well-protected that often "it's impossible for law enforcement to perform forensic examinations of devices seized from criminals."That depends largely, however, on the length of the passphrase or password that someone selects to protect a modern iOS device. (Because the original iPhone and iPhone 3G did not use hardware encryption, they were protected only by a passcode that could be easily bypassed.).