Apple announced last year that it was moving Chinese customer iCloud operations to China in an effort to comply with local laws, with the move officially taking place at the end of this month. Reuters today reports that among the information being are iCloud customer keys…

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Currently, all iCloud data is protected by strict security measures, with cryptographic keys being required to access any of the data. All of those details, including those of Chinese iCloud customers, are currently stored in the United States – meaning that data requests are subject to U.S. law.

As Reuters notes, however, once the iCloud keys are moved to Chinese servers, Chinese authorities will no longer have to go through the U.S. court system to obtain data on iOS users. Instead, authorities can use their “own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data.”

Now, according to Apple, for the first time the company will store the keys for Chinese iCloud accounts in China itself. That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users, legal experts said.

This migration for Chinese iCloud users has been met with concern from human rights and privacy activists, who say the government could use its new power to “track down dissidents.” Those activists liken the situation to Yahoo handing over user data two decades ago that led to the arrest and imprisonment of two democracy advocates:

Human rights activists say they fear the authorities could use that power to track down dissidents, citing cases from more than a decade ago in which Yahoo Inc handed over user data that led to arrests and prison sentences for two democracy advocates.

In response to the Reuters report, Apple issued a new statement in which it reiterated that it tried to prevent iCloud from being subject to these laws, but that it was ultimately unsuccessful. “While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful,” Apple said.

The company also says that the move does not mean that the Chinese government has any sort of “backdoor” to user data.

The switchover is officially slated to occur on February 28th, with data being automatically migrated to Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data servers.

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