Going forward, Apple will be hosting the encryption keys for mainland Chinese users from within China. In order to continue offering iCloud to Chinese users, Apple will have to loosen the reins in China. This move is made due to the recent Chinese law which states that cloud services need to have a domestic ownership, and their data needs to be stored within the Chinese borders.
Apple will be teaming with a state-backed company, Guizhou Cloud Big Data Industry, to enable this arrangement. The company contested to keep this data in the US, however they didn’t find any success. This battle started due to the recent legislation which requires that cloud services that are available to Chinese citizens be operated locally by Chinese companies. This also means that anyone who wanted to gain access to the iCloud data of any user would have to request the information through the US legal system. However, with the changes in the legislation, Chinese authorities will be able to request iCloud data access through their own legal system. Apple stated that it has still retained control of the encryption keys, and it is not giving any special access to China.
Apple also said that they would respond to only valid legal requests in China. However, the Chinese domestic legal system is quite different from the US, as the police do not need any court order to issue and execute warrants. This arrangement has got human rights advocates worried, as China is well-known for keeping a close eye on the domestic internet traffic in an attempt to target rebels. Moving the iCloud servers within the country will make it even easier for them to monitor.
“Even very early in a criminal investigation, police have broad powers to collect evidence,” said Jeremy Daum, an attorney and research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing. “(They are) authorized by internal police procedures rather than independent court review, and the public has an obligation to cooperate.”
This arrangement between Apple and the Chinese government may not be considered welcoming by activists and the citizens who would want to maintain as much as privacy as possible.