Apple To The Feds And Police: Drop Dead

Kudos, Tim Cook and Apple.

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.

The move, announced with the publication of a new privacy policy tied to the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, amounts to an engineering solution to a legal quandary: Rather than comply with binding court orders, Apple has reworked its latest encryption in a way that prevents the company — or anyone but the device’s owner — from gaining access to the vast troves of user data typically stored on smartphones or tablet computers.

The key is the encryption that Apple mobile devices automatically put in place when a user selects a passcode, making it difficult for anyone who lacks that passcode to access the information within, including photos, e-mails and recordings. Apple once maintained the ability to unlock some content on devices for legally binding police requests but will no longer do so for iOS 8, it said in the new privacy policy.

Apple is doing the right–and very shrewd–thing here. First of all, by changing the encryption so that only the user can access the data, Apple now has an easy way out of any warrants, subpoenas or other requests by governments for the data of an individual. The government wants Mr. Smith’s data? Sorry, government–you’ll have to get a warrant to search Mr. Smith’s phone itself. This is not only a great move in terms of privacy, but it also (in theory) will cut down on compliance costs for Apple, which is a win for both consumers and shareholders.

Second, the move will likely force competitors to follow suit, so the competitors are not “left behind” in this regard in terms of data and privacy.

Third, with Apple releasing Apple Pay, the new payments system, people could rightly be squeamish about their privacy. This is especially true given the latest iCloud breaches and hacks. Who would trust a company that allows such lapses in privacy with their financial information? This should alleviate some of their concerns.

Fourth, because of the way Apple works, it will still be able to access data from the users of their products in order to market to them. For example, when a user syncs their iPhone with their iTunes account (or otherwise accesses it), Apple will be able to determine what apps the person uses, the frequency, the purchase history from the iTunes store, etc. So Apple will still be able to maintain the wealth of user data that it has been accustomed to having access to, but with less of a concern in terms of governmental privacy breaches.

Of course, it will likely be only a matter of time before the new iPhones are hacked by somebody, governmental or not. But the bottom line here is that Apple has responded to the free market and the consumer’s desire for privacy and basically told overreaching governments that they’re not playing ball with unfounded privacy invasions.

If you want to access people’s data, government–get a warrant for that person. Seems fair, right?

As always, free markets are better markets.