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Apple didn’t always care so much about protecting iPhone users from the government

Apple iPhone Unlock Police

A new report says that Apple was more willing to comply with the government in the past when it came to unlocking iPhones tied to criminal investigations, having gone as far as to help prosecutors draft the documentation that would force it to unlock a device.

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Apple was asked and agreed to help law enforcement with unlocking a password-protected iPhone in 2008, one year after the first iPhone was released. Since then, Apple has helped break into more than 70 iPhones, a Wall Street Journal report reveals.

The company helped Watertown, NY prosecutors access the contents of an iPhone belonging to Amanda and Christopher Jansen, a young married couple involved in one of the “most horrific cases of child sex abuse” ever seen by those participating in the case.

An Apple lawyer reportedly supplied the Justice Department with language to use in the request for the order. Lisa Fletcher, a prosecutor in the case, wrote in her brief that there’s no statute to authorize Apple to unlock the phone, but the court could order Apple to open it under the All Writs Act – that’s the same path the FBI took with the San Bernardino iPhone this year.

The court agreed, and Apple unlocked the iPhone in the presence of an investigator. Apple tightened iPhone encryption starting with iOS 8, which wasn’t released until 2014.

Data collected from the Watertown handset included evidence of the couple abusing two children, including text conversations about specific acts they wanted to commit and text messages exchanged during the abuse. The couple pleaded guilty to federal charges in October 2009, and they’re both currently serving sentences of life in prison without parole.

In the more recent case, the FBI did not reveal whether it obtained any useful evidence from the San Bernardino iPhone.

The news only goes to show how much the landscape has changed since 2008, and how the recent Snowden leaks as well as Apple’s increased interest in software encryption have affected the way it cooperates with the government on criminal investigations.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.