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Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Apple is moving ahead with plans to limit the ability to access data from an iPhone via its charging port, a move that has drawn some concern from law enforcement.

Why it matters: A new USB Restricted Mode will change the phone's Lightning port from a data-and-charging port to charging-only an hour after the phone is locked. That severely limits the usefulness of the port as a means to gain access to information on a locked iPhone — but also limits hackers from using the port for malicious purposes.

Why it matters to law enforcement: Because Apple tightly restricts access to the iPhone for anyone other than its owner, law enforcement agencies are constantly looking for ways into a device for which they don't have a password. The Lightning port had proved a popular means for those looking to hack into devices, including legal authorities.

What Apple says: Without going into specifics, Apple defended its plan to make the changes, which have been part of recent test versions of iOS.

"We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data," Apple said in a statement on Wednesday. "We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs."

From Apple's perspective, the use of the Lightning port to access a locked phone had become more than just a tool for law enforcement, but also a potentially broader security vulnerability.

The bottom line: While the existence of USB Restricted Mode in test builds had been previously noted, a New York Times report earlier Wednesday included Apple's comments as well as concerns from law enforcement — and that could spark a broader debate.

Baton Rouge, La. District Attorney Hillar Moore criticized Apple, telling the Times that his office has paid a third-party firm to unlock iPhones in 5 cases since 2017: "They are blatantly protecting criminal activity, and only under the guise of privacy for their clients."

The backdrop: There has been a back-and-forth between Apple and law enforcement over iPhone access ever since the FBI tried to force Apple to create software to allow the agency to break into the suspected San Bernardino shooter's locked phone.

Apple fought the request, and the FBI eventually found another way in. However, the argument still rages over whether law enforcement should be given a backdoor into encrypted devices — a measure many security experts believe would render the encryption meaningless and open a big new potential security risk.

Go deeper

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

2 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.