Apple on Monday morning flat out denied that it’s ever unlocked an iPhone for law enforcement officials.
This contradicts a report in the press last week that said Apple had done otherwise.
The company does say, however, that in the past, “and under a lawful court order,” it has “extracted data from an iPhone” that used operating systems that came before iOS 8, which was released in 2014.
Apple explained this on Monday on a new website it created to explain why it’s opposing the federal court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone that belonged to one of the suspected San Bernardino shooters.
As TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino outlined on Friday, there’s an important difference between unlocking a phone and extracting data from a locked phone.
Apple has the ability pull some data, like texts, iMessages, photo and video messages, photos, videos, contacts, audio recordings, and the call history, from locked phones, but only if they are running operating systems before iOS 8. Apple outlines all of this in a document for law enforcement that also explains how agencies can use a search warrant to request such information.
Apple says it can only extract data from devices that are physically at its headquarters in Cupertino, California.
The iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the suspected shooters in the San Bernardino attacks, runs on iOS 9, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, according to The Washington Post, so Apple can’t extract data like it can with phones that use older operating systems.
So that’s why the FBI is asking for Apple’s help in unlocking the phone. Apple says that it’s possible to do that, but it would have to create a new operating system in order to do so. This would allow the FBI to use what’s known as brute force attack, which would allow a supercomputer to essentially guess the shooter’s lock screen code by trying every possible combination.
“…it’s something we believe is too dangerous to do,” Apple wrote on Monday morning in reference to creating a new operating system. “The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.”