Examining encrypted iPhones and iPads as evidence in police investigations has become so common that Apple has created a waiting list to handle the inundation of help requests that it receives, reports CNET. Though it's been known that Apple is willing to assist government agencies in opening up inaccessible iOS devices, the extent to which the company helps law enforcement hasn't been detailed before. Court documents seen by CNET reveal that an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was told that there would be a 7-week wait before Apple would be able to handle a case that he had submitted for assistance.

CNET reports that after Apple completes its examination of a device, it provides the investigating agency with the device's data on a USB drive. But how the company is able to acquire that data is unclear. CNET speculates that Apple may either have a backdoor into iOS that it uses for police investigations, or that the company is simply more adept at accessing encrypted data than many government agencies are. However, it's not clear under what legal circumstances Apple is willing to provide its assistance. Though the first two iterations of Apple's smartphone could be broken into by retrieving certain data directly from the device's hardware, models beginning with the iPhone 3GS have supported hardware encryption that makes it time consuming and difficult to access. We've reached out to Apple for comment and will update if we hear back.