Apple says it refused China’s request for iPhone source code

The Chinese government has asked Apple for the source code behind the iPhone, Apple’s top attorney confirmed to members of Congress on Monday.

The request came within the last two years as the global debate over encryption flared up following Apple’s decision to make strong encryption the default option for its hundreds of millions of iPhone customers.

Apple refused the Chinese request, according to Bruce Sewell, Apple’s general counsel.

Sewell began his under-oath testimony during a Tuesday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee with this assertion, seemingly in response to claims that Apple had divulged its source code to Chinese authorities. 

Just minutes prior to Sewell’s testimony, Captain Charles Cohen, Indiana’s commander of the state’s office of intelligence and investigative technologies, said he’s read multiple “news stories” claiming that Apple did in fact provide source code to China.

Cohen provided no evidence and did not claim to know whether this was factual. Instead, he said he was unable to find an answer on the issue from Apple while under oath.

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However, Apple has previously stated in court documents that they never provided any government with iPhone source code.

Source code is the underlying programming that makes a device like an iPhone tick. Apple keeps much of their code secret. If any government possessed the entire code, finding vulnerabilities and being able to circumvent Apple’s security measures, like encryption, would be significantly easier.

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.