Apple returned to CES this year in a panel discussion and the company's top privacy executive defended Apple’s use of encryption following recent clashes with law enforcement over access to information locked on iPhones.
IPhones are encrypted to protect data such as health and payment information, Senior Director of Global Privacy Jane Horvath said.
She also called terrorism and child sexual abuse “abhorrent” and stressed that Apple helps law enforcement with investigations every day.
The FBI recently asked Apple to help it access information on iPhones belonging to an alleged gunman who killed three people at a Florida naval base last month. The gunman is dead and the handsets are locked by a password and encrypted, so federal investigators can’t get the device data.
“When the FBI requested information from us relating to this case a month ago we gave them all of the data in our possession and we will continue to support them with the data we have available,” Apple said in a statement on Tuesday.
Apple regularly responds to warrants by giving investigators access to data that is stored on its servers, such as users’ iCloud account information. However, the company has refused in the past to help authorities unlock iPhones to get on-device data. It has also argued that iPhone security and encryption mean that it can’t access such information even if it wanted to.
The U.S. sought access to an iPhone from a terrorist who carried out a deadly shooting spree in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. Apple refused to help, and the FBI eventually was able to hack into the handset. Discussions and debate have continued with little progress.
Apple has used privacy as a key differentiator compared to competitors, such as Google's (Android OS) and Facebook.
At CES, Horvath described the ways Apple minimizes data collection, or gathers information that is not tied to specific users. She cited Siri pulling up weather data for person’s city, not their exact latitude and longitude.
Horvath also said Apple puts a privacy engineer and a lawyer on each team developing new devices.
During the discussion, Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said Facebook has “a different business model than Apple, but both business models are privacy protected.” Some hardware running Facebook software, including Oculus virtual reality headsets, process data on device, Egan added. But she said that many Facebook features around sharing require cloud-based processing.
Egan also said Facebook only collects information it needs to operating its services and work with advertisers. User privacy is protected on Facebook, Egan said.