The fight between law enforcement and tech companies about encryption and privacy is getting nastier than ever.


According to a report from the New York Times, the Justice Department obtained a court order for real-time messages between suspects using iPhones to communicate, but Apple didn’t comply.

The Times reported on the “standoff” between Apple and the DOJ over encrypted iMessages:


Government officials had warned for months that this type of standoff was inevitable as technology companies like Apple and Google embraced tougher encryption. The case, coming after several others in which similar requests were rebuffed, prompted some senior Justice Department and F.B.I. officials to advocate taking Apple to court, several current and former law enforcement officials said.

The fight between Apple and the DOJ hasn’t come to a lawsuit yet, but tensions have been high for a while. In the past, the DOJ has tried to use the All Writs Act, an antiquated law from the 18th century to force Apple and other companies to comply with requests for users’ data.

In some cases, Apple can’t comply even if it hires a team of law enforcement superfans: Encryption on phones and tablets running Apple’s newer (iOS 8) software means that the company can’t access password-protected data, whether or not there’s a search warrant. In the case this summer, the Times reports that Apple did eventually turn over certain stored iMessages it was able to access through the cloud, but it wasn’t the real-time snooping the government wanted.


This is another chapter in an unfolding and likely long-term fight, and Apple’s not the only tech company at odds with the government and law enforcement over who gets to see data. Microsoft is currently in a similar legal battle with the DOJ.

Image via AP