The WSJ has illustrated the stark contrast in Apple’s attitude to assisting law enforcement to access iPhones before and after the Snowden revelations about mass surveillance of private data. It was already known that Apple had helped access more than 70 pre-iOS 8 iPhones, and the paper today reports that – in the earliest known case – the company went as far as drafting the language for the court order.

Lawyers and investigators involved in the 2008 prosecution of Amanda and Christopher Jansen, a young married couple from Watertown, N.Y., remember it as one of the most horrific cases of child sex abuse they had ever seen.

History may remember it for another reason. It is believed to be the first case of a federal judge ordering Apple to assist the government in unlocking an iPhone—and the technology giant not only complied; it helped prosecutors draft the court order requiring it to do so … 

The court order was signed within hours, and a NY State Police investigator took the iPhone to Cupertino where Apple bypassed the passcode in the investigator’s presence.

Apple has long argued that its refusal to compromise the security of iOS by writing a special ‘GovtOS’ version is motivated by the desire to protect customers from the risks of the exploit making it out into the wild rather than any wish to hinder investigations.

While the legal battle between Apple and the FBI over a work phone in the San Bernardino case fizzled out, the debate is far from over. While the FBI is so far being coy about the method used to access that phone, it has confirmed that the approach doesn’t work with the iPhone 5s or later iPhones. There will undoubtedly be further legal attempts to gain access to more recent iPhones.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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