Apple apparently has the power to decrypt iPhone storage in response to law-enforcement requests, though they won't say how. Google can remotely "reset the password" for a phone for cops, too:
Last year, leaked training materials prepared by the Sacramento sheriff's office included a form that would require Apple to "assist law enforcement agents" with "bypassing the cell phone user's passcode so that the agents may search the iPhone." Google takes a more privacy-protective approach: it "resets the password and further provides the reset password to law enforcement," the materials say, which has the side effect of notifying the user that his or her cell phone has been compromised.
Ginger Colbrun, ATF's public affairs chief, told CNET that "ATF cannot discuss specifics of ongoing investigations or litigation. ATF follows federal law and DOJ/department-wide policy on access to all communication devices."
…The ATF's Maynard said in an affidavit for the Kentucky case that Apple "has the capabilities to bypass the security software" and "download the contents of the phone to an external memory device." Chang, the Apple legal specialist, told him that "once the Apple analyst bypasses the passcode, the data will be downloaded onto a USB external drive" and delivered to the ATF.
It's not clear whether that means Apple has created a backdoor for police — which has been the topic of speculation in the past — whether the company has custom hardware that's faster at decryption, or whether it simply is more skilled at using the same procedures available to the government. Apple declined to discuss its law enforcement policies when contacted this week by CNET.
It's not clear to me from the above whether Google "resetting the password" for Android devices merely bypasses the lock-screen or actually decrypts the mass storage on the phone if it has been encrypted.
I also wonder if the "decryption" Apple undertakes relies on people habitually using short passwords for their phones — the alternative being a lot of screen-typing in order to place a call.
Apple deluged by police demands to decrypt iPhones [Declan McCullagh/CNet]