The government once asked Apple to unlock a phone that wasn't even password-protected

Tim cookChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesApple CEO Timothy Cook returns from a break in his testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Investigations Subcommittee.

Over the past few years, Apple has become tired of government officials around the world asking it for help unlocking smartphones, according to a major profile of CEO Tim Cook published in The New York Times on Friday.

Apple’s annoyance with the growing number of legitimate government requests was deeply influential to Cook’s thoughts on security and privacy, which have culminated in a public challenge to the FBI in its request to help hack a terrorist’s smartphone.

Here’s one request that must have infuriated Apple: a government official once asked Apple to unlock a phone that didn’t even have its passcode turned on.

Filling these requests was tedious for Apple. Lawyers had to vet each request individually. And when a request was valid, Apple needed to dedicate spy-level security and significant resources.

From the New York Times:

Apple in recent years required that law enforcement officials physically travel with the gadget to the company’s headquarters, where a trusted Apple engineer would work on the phones inside Faraday bags, which block wireless signals, during the process of data extraction.

According to The Daily Beast, Apple has unlocked at least 70 devices for authorities since 2008. And as Cook has mentioned, foreign governments can make the same requests as U.S. law enforcement authorities.

The increasing wave of government requests facing Apple was a major factor in shifting Cook’s views to a place where he would decide to publicly challenge an FBI court order.

To a lesser extent, the annoying and expensive security procedures around even lawful requests explain why Apple is seeking to build devices that encrypt personal data like contacts, messages, and photos in a way that Apple can’t unlock them, even if it is compelled by a government agency.

The entire profile at the New York Times is worth a read.

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