Whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden lauded Apple for enabling measures like default full-disk encryption in iOS 8, in a rare editorial published on Friday.
The piece for The New York Times noted that some progress has been made in reversing mass surveillance not just politically but technologically, through changes to devices and Internet protocols. Various governments, including the U.S., have been using weaknesses in high-tech infrastructure to spy on the public, but these are allegedly being closed.
"Basic technical safeguards such as encryption — once considered esoteric and unnecessary — are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private," Snowden said.
Apple has come under fire from various U.S. government officials for iOS 8's security. The most infamous example may be Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who in October 2014 claimed that Apple was marketing to criminals, and that its technology would one day lead to the death of a child, since police would not be able to extract needed iPhone data.
iOS 8 not only encrypts iPhone and iPad data by default, but gives Apple no access to encryption keys, meaning that the company can't help produce someone's data even when served with a warrant or pressured by intelligence agencies.
In March, a document leaked by Snowden revealed a Central Intelligence Agency campaign to crack the security of iOS, OS X, BitLocker, and other platforms. Although it's unclear to what extent the CIA and NSA may have broken through iOS 8, past versions of iOS have been vulnerable to spying tools.
Snowden's latest comments mark a turn from earlier this year, when his lawyer said that the whistleblower refuses to use an iPhone, since the device "has special software that can activate itself without the owner" and gather information. The lawyer did not elaborate on whether that meant spyware from intelligence agencies or more pedestrian data tracking, such as diagnostics.