Apple handed over iCloud data to help the FBI track down a George Floyd protestor

What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone...unless the FBI wants to see it.

By Aimee Pearcy , written on September 16, 2020

From The News Desk

Apple has helped the FBI to track down George Floyd protestor Kelly Jackson, who was accused of firebombing police cars, by handing over vital evidence from the protestor’s iCloud. 

According to court documents first pointed out by Forbes, Verizon handed records over to the FBI that revealed Jackson’s location during the protests, and a log of calls he had made. 

Apple handed over screenshots that were hosted in Jackson’s photo library after the FBI figured out he used an iPhone 7. 

The screenshots included an Instagram post that promoted the protest, a Molotov cocktail recipe, and a green glass bottle in a black bag. The personal evidence found matched the evidence from the surveillance footage. Apple also provided the name, email, phone number, and address associated with the account. 

Last week, Jackson was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a destructive device and arson.

Apple has become known for its ‘privacy-first’ approach ever since it came under fire for refusing the FBI’s request for a “backdoor” that would allow access to local files on the iPhone in 2016. 

In a message to customers, Tim Cook said:

“We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.”

Since then, Apple’s focus on privacy has become its most marketable feature, and ‘Privacy. That’s iPhone’ has quickly become one of its most famous slogans.

In January this year, Trump publicly lambasted Apple on Twitter after they refused to help officials to hack the iPhone of a Saudi national who shot dead three people at a naval base in Pensacola last year. 

He wrote:

“We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers  and other violent criminal elements. They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

And yet, according to Apple’s transparency report from July - December 2019, Apple received 5,271 government requests for user data. It provided the requested data in 83% of cases. 

It looks like Apple’s relationship with the FBI isn’t as hostile as the company likes to make out -- and it never really has been.

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