Apple Will Reportedly Unlock Your iPhone For Police

If your smartphone is encrypted and protected by a long passcode, you’re going to keep most people from being able to get at the data stored on it. However, companies like Apple and Google are being asked by law enforcement officials to bypass these protections to aid in investigations, and the frequency of requests is creating lengthy wait lists—one agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) was reportedly told by an Apple legal representative that the agency would need to wait at least seven weeks to have a phone unlocked.

CNET reports that the ATF agent tried for three months to find “a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency with the forensic capabilities to unlock” an iPhone as part of a drug investigation last year but came up short. At that point, he approached Apple, which may be able to bypass the iOS security measures and dump the contents of an iOS device to a USB drive, and was put on the company’s wait list. Though the Apple representative allegedly gave the agent an estimate of at least seven weeks, CNET reports that in the end the wait “appear[ed] to have been at least four months.”

There are a few software packages that claim to be able to extract some or all information stored on encrypted iOS devices and other mobile phones, but a quick look at the landscape suggests that they often can’t recover all of the information on the phone, and they generally don’t support the latest hardware or iOS versions. Elcomsoft’s iOS Forensic Toolkit only supports iOS versions 3, 4, and 5, for example, while the Oxygen Forensics Suite 2013 supports all current devices but notes that “password-protected devices will require password to perform data extraction,” which sort of defeats the purpose.