Apple has been served a warrant by the FBI to obtain information on the iCloud account of U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is being investigated for controversial stock trades linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Los Angeles Times, FBI agents served Apple the warrant “in recent days” to gain access to the iCloud data. The information gathered from the warrant’s execution was then used as evidence to serve another warrant to obtain the Republican senator’s iPhone from his home.
Federal agents seized a cellphone belonging to a prominent Republican senator on Wednesday night as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into controversial stock trades he made as the novel coronavirus first struck the U.S., a law enforcement official said. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned over his phone to agents after they served a search warrant on the lawmaker at his residence in the Washington area, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a law enforcement action.
According to the report, the Senator is being investigated for selling a significant percentage of his stock portfolio in 33 different transactions on February 13, just as his committee was receiving daily COVID-19 briefings and a week before the stock market sharply declined.
The value of the trades is believed to be between $628,000 and $1.72 million. Much of that was said to have been invested in businesses that in subsequent weeks were hit hard by the plunging market, the implication being that the trades were made on the basis of information Burr received about the pandemic in the daily briefings.
Apple can decrypt an iCloud backup and provide the information to authorities when ordered to do so via a warrant, because the company views privacy and security issues differently between physical devices that can be lost and iCloud. With iCloud, it needs to be accessible by Apple so that it can restore the data for the user.
iCloud backups contain iMessages and texts, content purchase history, photos and videos, device settings, app data, voicemail password, and health data. Backups don’t include information that’s easily downloadable, such as emails from servers or apps, and while iCloud backup does encompass iCloud keychain, Wi-Fi passwords, and passwords for third-party services, that information is encrypted in a way that makes it inaccessible to Apple.
More than two years ago, Apple reportedly informed the FBI that it planned to roll out end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups, but ultimately dropped the plan at some point after the FBI objected, although it remains unclear if the federal agency was a factor in the decision.
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