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Two new features of the upcoming iOS 11 system update for Apple devices will make it more difficult for law enforcement to unlock seized devices and extract data from devices that are already unlocked. Apple announced at its special event yesterday that the release date for iOS 11 will be Sept. 19, as it also unveiled the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X devices.

Beta versions of iOS 11, which have become available within the last few months, revealed that the system update will include a feature called “Emergency SOS,” which activates by tapping the power button five times in quick succession. This will automatically call the user’s emergency contact, but, according to technology news site CNET, it will also disable Touch ID until the user enters their passcode. This means the device will not be unlockable with a fingerprint until it is unlocked with a passcode first. 

In 2014, a judge in Virginia ruled that police could compel a defendant to use their fingerprint to unlock their phone, but could not force them to reveal their passcode, as the latter could be considered self-incriminating knowledge protected by the Fifth Amendment. This set a precedent for police to compel suspects to unlock their phones via Touch ID, although passcodes remained protected. With the new iOS Emergency SOS feature, Apple users could make it more difficult for law enforcement to access their devices simply by tapping the power button quickly five times before their device is seized, preventing police from forcing them to activate Touch ID.

A second feature discovered by digital forensic tool developer ElcomSoft requires a passcode before data can be transferred between a device and a computer. Previously, as described in an ElcomSoft blog post, an unlocked Apple device could be easily connected to a computer by plugging it into the computer’s USB port using an applicable wire and tapping a button to confirm that the user trusts the computer and will allow data to be transferred from the device to the connected system. This allowed law enforcement with access to an unlocked Apple device to transfer data in large amounts from the device to their computer system, where it could then be analyzed using digital forensics tools.

The new iOS 11 changes the process, requiring a passcode to be entered before the device establishes trust with the computer. Until the passcode is entered, no data can be transferred from the device to the system—this means that law enforcement, even with access to an unlocked device, will not be able to extract and analyze data from the device in large amounts, according to ElcomSoft. This means they will only be able to manually look at information on the device from the device screen itself, and while they can still send information from the device to themselves, they cannot extract and analyze it in bulk in a more practical manner for large amounts of information.

ElcomSoft also notes that iOS 11 no longer stores old notifications on devices, removing another source of potential information for forensic investigators. While in the past, notifications that were never read or dismissed remained stored on the device’s backups despite being invisible to the user, those notifications—“pushed by pretty much every app of forensic significance,” as stated by ElcomSoft—will no longer be kept.

Apple has sparred with law enforcement over access to locked devices before, most notably in 2016 when the U.S. Justice Department tried to compel the company to help them unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, as they were investigating the shooting that left 14 dead in the California city. Apple refused to help on privacy grounds, and the legal battle only ended when the FBI successfully unlocked the phone without the company’s help, The New York Times reported. Apple had previously removed their “back door” access to device information through the iOS 8 update in September 2014, leaving law enforcement largely unable to request data from locked devices through warrants, according to USA Today.

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