Apple: We Won’t Unlock Devices When The Police Ask, Because iOS 8 Doesn’t Let Us

After nude photos of celebrities stolen off the iCloud showed up all over the Internet, Apple had a whole lot of egg on its face from customers worried about their own privacy. It seems the company is taking steps to counteract some of those concerns, at least so far as devices are involved, announcing last night that with the iOS 8 software update comes another layer of privacy: The company itself will no longer be able to unlock customers’ devices, even when served with a search warrant.

The company announced a new privacy policy last night in connection with the release of iOS 8, and also wrote on its website that even with a warrant in hand, law enforcement won’t be able to make Apple open up any device running the software, because only the customer’s passcode will unlock it.

As Apple explains it:

On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.

Eventually, only those devices incapable of running iOS 8 — which means any iPhones or iPads a few years old — will be able to be unlocked by Apple.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to the iCloud, from which Apple still has a legal responsibility to turn over certain user data if its served with the right paperwork from law enforcement. So if you don’t want your photos, videos, emails, music or anything else that could go to the iCloud accessed by the police, you’ll have to adjust your settings to keep that data from going to the cloud.

So while the Supreme Court says that police will most likely always need a search warrant to check out your phone or collect data from it, now Apple won’t have to comply with those requests based on the fact that it can’t do anything. Only you can.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.