Recently, FBI got a court order that compels Apple to create a forensics tool; this tool would let FBI brute force the PIN on a suspect’s device. But lets look at the difference between this and simply bringing a phone to Apple; maybe you’ll start to see the difference of why this is so significant, not to mention underhanded.
First, let me preface this with the fact that I am speaking from my own personal experience both in the courtroom and working in law enforcement forensics circles since around 2008. I’ve testified as an expert in three cases in California, and many others have pleaded out or had other outcomes not requiring my testimony. I’ve spent considerable time training law enforcement agencies around the world specifically in iOS forensics, met LEOs in the middle of the night to work on cases right off of airplanes, gone through the forensics validation process and clearance processes, and dealt with red tape and all the other terrible aspects of forensics that you don’t see on CSI. It was a lot of fun but was also an incredibly sobering experience, as I have not been trained to deal with the evidence (images, voicemail, messages, etc) that I’ve been exposed to like LEOs have; my faith has kept me grounded. I’ve developed an amazing amount of respect for what they do.
For years, the government could come to Apple with a warrant and a phone, and have the manufacturer provide a disk image of the device. This largely worked because Apple didn’t have to hack into their phones to do this. Up until iOS 8, the encryption Apple chose to use in their design was easily reversible when you had code execution on the phone (which Apple does). So all through iOS 7, Apple only needed to insert the key into the safe and provide FBI with a copy of the data.