Apple announced at its annual developer conference that its next operating system, iOS 12, will include a new feature it’s calling USB Restricted Mode, which will reportedly prevent law enforcement from unlocking phones with tools previously used to gain access to locked phones.
According to Reuters, Apple made these changes in part to protect users in countries where criminals and police can easily seize phones.
“We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data,” Apple said in a prepared statement. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”
The technology currently used by law enforcement to forcibly unlock phones allows them to transfer data from an iPhone without the need of a passcode, but the new mode disables the phone’s Lightning port data transfer capabilities an hour after it’s locked and limits it to charging only. In order to allow data transfer to resume, the user needs to re-enter the passcode every hour. Not even a “trusted” computer, which can normally access phone data without the need of a passcode, will be able to perform a data transfer without the passcode when USB Restricted Mode is enabled.
According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) official’s comments to Politico, law enforcement officers may be able to claim an exigent need and access the phone’s data within the first hour before the USB Restricted Mode locks them out without first obtaining a warrant.
“We recommend that everyone only have a passcode and not the facial recognition or fingerprint access,” said attorney Brad Koffel. “The reason is that law enforcement can get a search warrant to compel you to put your fingerprint on the phone or look at the phone. However, your password is protected by the 5th Amendment.”