Apple Locks Itself Out of Devices With Passwords


Apple has tightened its technological security so that not even the company can pry into a password-protected iPhone or iPad, a move meant to reassure the millions of people who are increasingly storing vital pieces of their lives on the devices.

The additional safeguard is part of Apple’s latest mobile software, iOS 8, which the Cupertino, California, company released Wednesday. Apple Inc. revealed the stronger protection in a new section of its website that is prefaced with a letter from CEO Tim Cook, who emphasizes the company’s “fundamental” commitment to privacy and security.

“Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers,” Cook wrote. “We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.”

Apple is highlighting its heightened security, and has been stressing the need for its users to rely on passwords that are difficult to guess. It has also recommended the adoption of a security feature known as two-step verification, which requires a special code sent to mobile phones to be entered along with a password to log into accounts.

Apple’s inability to unlock password-protected smartphones and tablets could frustrate law-enforcement officials, who sometimes obtain court orders to vacuum personal data off the phones for potential evidence in criminal investigations.

The personal information will be blocked on more than just Apple’s newest mobile devices, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which go on sale Friday. That’s because Apple is giving away iOS 8 to anyone with a device dating back to 2011. The software can be downloaded to devices as old as the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2. That covers hundreds of millions of devices already in use.

The number of legal requests that Apple gets for personal data off devices is relatively small. Apple provided some data in nearly 6,500 of the roughly 9,600 requests that law-enforcement agencies around the world submitted for devices during the first half of this year, according to the company’s own accounting. Apple says that in most cases, the requests came after a device was stolen.

Like other technology companies, Apple is trying to depict itself as a trustworthy steward of people’s information after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing government spies’ efforts to snoop on emails and other personal information as part of an effort to identify potential terrorists.

Apple, like its peers, has lashed out at the U.S. government’s digital-surveillance programs and stressed that it isn’t cooperating with any of the spying.

Cook is seeking to draw an even bigger distinction between Apple and other prominent technology companies, such as Google Inc. and some social-media sites, which offer free online services financed by ads that are based on the personal preferences expressed in emails that are scanned, search requests that are tracked and social-media posts that are analyzed.

Apple doesn’t need to resort to those tactics, Cook said, because the company makes its money from the devices and services that it sells.

“A few years ago, users of internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer,” Cook wrote in his letter. “You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.”