Apple later this year will launch an online portal for law enforcement officials to submit “lawful request for data, track outstanding requests, and obtain responsive data” from the tech company.
Kate Adams, Apple’s senior vice president and general counsel, in a Sept. 4 letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., described the new portal and other programs Apple is developing to assist law enforcement.
“When the portal goes live, law enforcement agents will be able to apply for authentication credentials, giving them the option to submit legal requests online,” Adams said.
She added that Apple is “building a team of professionals dedicated solely to training law enforcement officials around the world” and that the company intends “to develop an online training module for law enforcement that mirrors” the in-person training.
Adams’ letter comes in response to Whitehouse’s work with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which released a report detailing recommendations to Apple regarding digital evidence in legal proceedings.
Apple’s newly-announced initiatives are being seen as a means to ease tensions over a long-contentious topic–user privacy and whether law enforcement should be afforded “backdoor” access to data in the case of criminal proceedings.
Apple and law enforcement agencies have notably sparred over the issue of encryption and government’s right to access private citizens’ data. Apple in 2016 refused to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation bypass encryption on a locked Apple smartphone belonging to a suspect in the 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack.
Apple at the time argued that providing that access would undermine its technology and potentially allow backdoor access for cybercriminals. The FBI later revealed it had accessed the device through other means.
Since then, multiple pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress to prevent government entities from demanding encryption backdoors or unauthorized access to devices, but those bills have failed to pick up steam.
Apple’s new measures could be a sign that it wants to establish appropriate procedures and better partnership will law enforcement over the sensitive issue. The previous request process had been handled via email. But the company isn’t backing down on its expressed commitment to user privacy.
“Apple is committed to protecting the security and privacy of our users,” Adams said. “The initiatives we are announcing and the work we do to assist investigations are consistent with and uphold this fundamental commitment.”