iOS Will Soon Lock Up iPhones; Police Aren’t Very Happy About It

As predicted last month, iOS will be instituting a new feature, USB Restricted Mode, that will make it impossible for the police to crack an iPhone. It first appeared in the iOS 11.3 beta, and now it’s in the iOS 12 beta, with Apple confirming it will be in a final iOS release, most likely iOS 12. Predictably, police aren’t very happy about Apple’s commitment to lock up iPhones.

USB Restricted Mode

This all became an issue after a mass shooting in California where the police wanted to look through the deceased shooter’s iPhone for clues, but it was locked. They asked Apple to provide them a backdoor, and they were refused.

This led to some enterprising tech companies developing devices to specifically crack iPhones. A popular one is GrayShift’s GrayKey. They’ve been marketing the device to police and federal agencies. The device plugs into the lightning port and allows them to use more passcode attempts than intended without the phone locking up.

What USB Restricted Mode does is limit access to the locked phone when it’s plugged into another device. By default, the lightning port will lock one hour after the phone is locked. Only charging will be possible through the lightning port after that one-hour time, meaning police can’t download data.

We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves, and intrusions into their personal data,read an Apple statement.


We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.

Despite that, many, many law enforcement agencies are already using GrayKey, a device they paid $15,000 to $30,000 for. But Apple is about to make it useless.

Police Reaction

Predictably, the police aren’t too happy about losing their access. Just when they found that access they’d been looking for through GrayKey, Apple is pushing them out again.

If we go back to the situation where we again don’t have access, now we know directly all the evidence we’ve lost and all the kids we can’t put into a position of safety,” said Chuck Cohen, the leader of an Indiana State Police task force on Internet crimes against children.

The Indiana State Police claims to have unlocked 96 iPhones, each time with a warrant, and they did so using the GrayKey that they bought in March.


Hillar Moore, the district attorney in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, paid a company called Cellebrite, an Israeli forensics firm, thousands of dollars to unlock iPhones in five cases, with one of those being the gazing-related death of a fraternity pledge.

The unlocked phones yielded crucial information to the investigations, leaving him upset that Apple is closing up that loophole. “They are blatantly protecting criminal activity and only under the guise of privacy for their clients,” he said.

Damned If They Do; Damned If They Don’t

Apple’s in a situation where they can’t make everyone happy. If they provide a way to unlock their phones, their customers aren’t very happy that they’re not protecting their data, and that’s not a game you want to play right now with all the trouble companies are getting into from collecting data.

But if they make their users happy and keep their iPhones locked, then they stand to upset law enforcement, potentially leaving criminals on the street longer.

There’s no right solution, but it’s clear Apple has chosen their users by instituting USB Restricted Mode in a future release. Do you think Apple is making the right choice? Let us know in the comments section below.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.


  1. Police want access to locked smartphones on the tired, old excuse of “all the kids we can’t put into a position of safety” or of “rooting out terrorism”. If they get that, what next? An government -mandated A/V camera in every room of every dwelling? Just think how many kids the police can put in a position of safety and how many terrorist they can catch then!

    “This all became an issue after a mass shooting in California where the police wanted to look through the deceased shooter’s iPhone for clues, but it was locked.”
    Did they ever finding any incriminating evidence once they got the phone unlocked? Or did it turn out to be just a fishing expedition?

    1. I couldn’t remember any evidence coming from the phone being cracked, at least nothing I remember being published. So I reseached to be sure and found that is true. They found nothing.

      Interestingly, I didn’t read the articles last night, but I saw several mentioning that they think GrayShift has already figured out how to crack iOS 12’s news security. But iOS 12 isn’t even out yet other than develper beta, so this gives Apple a few months to see if they can find another way to keep the data safe.

    2. I agree with you to a point, Dragonmouth. The regular law-abiding citizen’s right to privacy should be embraced. However, if a crime has been or is suspected to be committed, the police should have a right to explore all avenues to gather information to help them put criminals behind bars. One’s cell phone these days seems to be an important part of everyday life and can help the police with their investigations. We live in a society where our actions are captured on our and other people’s phones, on social media of all kinds, by cameras used by homeowners and businesses and even by traffic enforcement. Drones are also becoming a useful tool by different government agencies. Privacy? Not even in your own home, where hackers can access your Smart TV or your home computer.

      1. “The regular law-abiding citizen’s right to privacy should be embraced”
        How?! By demanding access to everybody’s cellphone?

        “if a crime ………. is suspected to be committed,”
        Be careful what you wish for. I would not want to live in a society where a few key words gleaned from a person’s phone or computer can be used to accuse or indict them for a crime they will supposedly commit. Nobody, as yet, has come up with an accurate algorithm that predicts criminality in an individual.

        “put criminals behind bars”
        Define “criminal”. Today, it is the rapist, terrorist, mugger, the child molester. Tomorrow it may be the Democrat, the Republican or anybody that does not back and/or criticizes the ruling clique. We are quickly becoming a 1984-type society.

  2. It strikes me that Apple along with all the other giant companies (Google etc) are doing their best to stymie law enforcement, and sometime soon, politicians will wake up and enforce stringing legislation that the companies will wail about but they’ll then have to toe the line or their chief executives will find themselves in court on criminal charges. THAT will concentrate their minds!

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