The US government is fighting with Apple and Microsoft over access to data


Tim Cook at his Senate Hearing


Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at a Senate hearing in 2013.

The US government is currently engaged in legal battles with Apple and Microsoft over access to private customer data, such as messages.


The New York Times reports that two concurrent battles have emerged: one with Apple over access to the iMessage service and the other with Microsoft over data stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland.

The Apple-related Department of Justice investigation focuses on iMessages that are sent and received from suspected gun and drug dealers. Apple claims that iMessage is encrypted end-to-end so it cannot see the messages, a point that has been highlighted many times by the company and even the CEO, Tim Cook. This, in turn, means the US government cannot see them.

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End-to-end encryption, the type used by Apple in iMessage and FaceTime, means that no one - not even Apple - can see the content of the messages sent between users, effectively halting any third party attempts to access the data.

This encryption does not apply to iCloud, the company's group of online services, and Apple has handed over some messages that were stored in the cloud to the US government.


Apple CEO Tim Cook has been an outspoken advocate of privacy, often throwing jabs at Google over its practises. "There's another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day - it's the battle over encryption," he told the New York Times. "We think this is incredibly dangerous."

Microsoft is currently in a showdown with the US government over access to information on a server located in Dublin, Ireland, and whether the US government can access it. Brad Smith, Microsoft's legal council, has spoken publicly about the ramifications of the triumph by the DOJ, claiming that it would set a precedent for other governments - namely Russia and China - to access data on servers based in the US.

"People want to know what law will be applied to their data," Brad Smith told The New York Times. "[The] French want their rights under French law, and Brazilians under Brazilian law. What is the U.S. government going to do when other governments reach into the U.S. data centers, without notifying the U.S. government?"

Microsoft and the US government are set to argue it out this week when both parties appear in a federal appeals court on Wednesday.

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