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Apple reportedly stopped plans to fully encrypt iPhone backups in iCloud at FBI request

The tech company didn't pursue the option after law enforcement protested, says a new story

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Updated at 3:58 pm ET to note that the FBI declined to comment. Apple did not follow through with an idea to allow its customers to encrypt the contents of their iPhones on iCloud. Instead, the plans quietly disappeared specifically after the FBI told the tech company that the move would thwart their work.

Apple dropped the plans two years ago, according to a story from Reuters which cited six sources including current and former Apple employees and also current and former FBI officials. The news comes as Apple is currently being tapped to help unlock two iPhones that were used in the Pensacola, Florida shooting in December of three sailors by a member of the Saudi Royal Air Force.

But the situation recalls the request, made in 2016, of then-FBI DirectorJames Comey who wanted Apple to unlock the iPhone of a shooter in San Bernardino, California. Apple declined, and the FBI instead broke into the iPhone 5C using an alternative method.

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Apple has given law enforcement access to the iCloud backups of the shooter, Reuters states. That fact alone is something Apple spells out clearly in its 14-page Legal Process Guidelines on its site. In there, Apple states that it does "provide content in response to a search warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause." What that content includes is clearly spelled out in the guidelines, and could be customer service records as well as iCloud data including mail logs which detail the time, date, a sender's email address and the recipient's, plus photos, calendars, email content and more.

Apple cannot send data specifically off devices running iOS 8.0 or later, however, as the data stored on the device itself is encrypted. The iPhone 5C used by the shooter in 2016 was running iOS 9.

Sometime after 2016, Apple told the FBI that it would lock down and encrypt anything data that was on an iPhone and backed up into iCloud — which would mean Apple itself wouldn't able to gain access to the content as well. At the next meeting with the FBI, Apple did not mention the plan again, according to the story.

GearBrain has reached out to Apple for comment, which has not yet responded. GearBrain has also reached out to the FBI, which declined to comment for the story.

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