Apple has revealed details about how its China-based data centres comply with the Chinese government ahead of its court battle with the US government over the locked iPhone of a dead terrorist.

Apple opened its Chinese data centres back in August 2014, when it partnered up with China Telecom Corp to use its data centres in order to provide a faster service for its iCloud users in the country.

Controversial Deal

Apple told the Financial Times that Apple’s servers in China store fully encrypted user data that can only be unlocked with an encryption key that’s held in the US.

Apple said the data centre stored data of Chinese users only, but admitted that Apple has agreed to a number of government requests in order for that to happen, including incorporating a Chinese Wi-Fi standard.

During the first six months of 2015, the Chinese government reportedly asked Apple for data on over 4,000 devices. In the US meanwhile, Apple reportedly received over 9,000 requests over the same timeframe.

The FT said that Apple’s decision to work with the Chinese government in this way had raised questions about Apple’s privacy policies outside the US. And it pointed out that the US Department of Justice had accused Apple earlier this month of making special deals in China.

“Apple has never made user data, whether stored on the iPhone or in iCloud, more technologically accessible to any country’s government,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering, reportedly said. “It is my understanding that Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a ‘backdoor’ in any of our products or services.”

Phone Backdoor?

Observers will note that Federighi did not say that user data had never been accessible by any foreign government. But Federighi also reportedly said Apple had never shared the iPhone source code with any government.

Apple also revealed in September 2014 that it would hire a local manager in China to deal with data requests on users from the Chinese government and other authorities,

The whole concept of storing user data in China was highly controversial at the time, because storing data in that country means that Apple had to comply with Chinese government requests for data. Google for example refuses to build data centres in China because of censorship and privacy concerns.

Apple of course remains locked in legal battle after a US court had ordered the iPad maker to help the FBI hack into the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook.

Apple has refused to co-operate over the matter, and said that the move violates its constitutional rights and that law enforcement authorities are seeking “dangerous powers”.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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