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Durov’s statement that iCloud is ‘a surveillance tool’ came after Apple abandoned its long-running plan to fully encrypt iCloud backups because of FBI objection.
Recently, Telegram founder Pavel Durov made quite a bold statement. On his Telegram channel, he argued that Apple‘s iCloud is now ‘officially a surveillance tool’. Further, Durov cited a Reuters report and stated that apps relying on it to store users’ private messages (such as WhatsApp) are part of the problem.
But let us see how the whole story began.
Apple’s iCloud Will Not Encrypt Backups
About two years ago, Apple was considering end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups. After doing that, Apple would be no longer able to access user data and share it with authorities when necessary. The company informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about its decision. However, the FBI objected to approving it. FBI cybercrime agents explained that after encryption, vital evidence wouldn’t be accessible when prosecuting an individual who used an iPhone for communication.
But FBI objection was not the only problem. In addition, Apple could face allegations from public officials claiming the company was protecting criminals. For Apple, that would undermine its reputation. Besides, the company faced Donald Trump’s accusation of refusal ‘to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers, and other violent criminal elements’. The accusation came after U.S. Attorney General William Barr publicly asked Apple to unlock two iPhones. These devices were used by a Saudi Air Force officer who shot dead three Americans at a Pensacola, Florida naval base last month.
As a result, the company had to abandon its plan to fully encrypt Apple’s iCloud backups. As Apple former employee said, the company did not want to risk.
He commented on abandoning the plan:
“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine.”
Further, the spokesperson added:
“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore.”
iCloud backups are encrypted, but end-to-end encryption protects only the most sensitive user information. These data include payment information, Wi-Fi passwords, Home and Health information, iCloud Keychain, Screen Time, and Siri information. Contact details and messaging logs remain accessible. Therefore, government agencies receive iCloud backups when it is necessary.
Telegram Still Fights with SEC
While Apple is obeying authorities’ decisions to save its goodwill, Telegram positions itself as a provider of ‘real privacy’. In 2018, the company refused to provide the encryption keys to user accounts to the Russian authorities. As a result, Russian authorities decided to block access to the messenger.
Currently, Telegram has a legal tussle with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Their battle seems to be endless, as more and more new details about the company’s Gram tokens appear.
To remind: SEC claimed Telegram violated U.S. securities law by selling future tokens (Gram tokens) for its TON blockchain to investors in the U.S. Recently, SEC filed a new document claiming that Telegram’s plan was to make the Gram token securities. The document also cites instances where official correspondences suggest as much.
As we have already reported, in response, the Blockchain Association (Coinbase, Circle, Ripple Labs, and other leading companies) has filed an amicus curiae brief to support Telegram. The Association stated:
“The Court should not block a long-planned, highly anticipated product launch by interfering with a contract between sophisticated private parties. Doing so would needlessly harm the investors that securities laws were designed to protect.”
Besides, the association asked the court to ‘reject the SEC’s arguments that the not-yet-in-existence Grams were securities at the time of the Purchase Agreements.’
It is not clear what outcome the case will have. The first court hearing for the case will take place on February 18.