Why Is Apple Fighting Law Enforcement on Unlocking iPhones?

The question of privacy is a messy one. The majority of people can agree that it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible against criminals to reach a conviction. However, when it comes to the ability to unlock one’s phone and gain access to a person’s private data, the territory gets a little murky.

While Apple’s focus on privacy is nothing new, it’s constantly been fighting law enforcement agencies around the world who have been trying to pressure it to make backdoors that they can use to gain access to private data stored on those devices.

Introducing GrayKey

In the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino attack where shooters killed 14 people and injured another 22, the FBI recovered the phone of one of the shooters. It later asked Apple for a way to break the encryption that locked the data into the phone. Apple vehemently opposed this and fought it every which way, eventually winning the case.


This led to division in the tech community. While many argued that Apple did the right thing and that its customers shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders just because one of them happened to be a shooter in an attack, others considered that it should cooperate with law enforcement to give them all the tools they need to apprehend criminals. The former argument won out because of a perceived slippery slope in which authorities could one day abuse this privilege and perform unlawful searches and seizures, disregarding the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution.

Since then, across the United States, police departments and the FBI have been using a cheap way to get around Apple’s lock. The solution is called GrayKey and comes in the form of a box that installs a brute-force cracker inside the phone once connected. Once the passcode is found, the phone’s screen will go black and display the results. This could take anywhere from hours to days, and some attempts do not succeed.

Apple Fights Back


Of course, Apple wasn’t just going to sit around with its thumb in its mouth when it found out about this. The company immediately struck back by announcing that it will change default settings in the iOS operating system to ensure that the GrayKey decryption device results in unsuccessful attempts to crack a phone.

But what drives Apple to fight this hard against law enforcement?

The answer is simple: Since the privacy of its devices is one of its selling points, Apple cannot afford to have its reputation tarnished. The company is doing everything in its power to ensure that it maintains this reputation. And users obviously benefit from this because they are relying on a manufacturer whose incentive it is to constantly up the ante on the security and privacy of its devices.

Whether you’re a fan of Apple or despise its phones, you can’t deny that this set of incentives plays well for more privacy-minded individuals.

A publicly-traded company like Apple who produces both the software and the hardware of its devices from scratch needs to make sure in every way possible that shareholders won’t bail on it. If something suddenly came up that renders iPhones useless against prying eyes, you can bet that the stock price of the company will take a dip.

What do you think could incentivize phone manufacturers using Android’s software to ensure better privacy for their users? Tell us what you think in a comment!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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