The Spiegel article perhaps contains a key to this capability:
"In the internal documents, experts boast about successful access to
iPhone data in instances where the NSA is able to infiltrate the
computer a person uses to sync their iPhone."

I have not seen security measures such as requiring a password from
the connected computer to a phone in order to access data such as
contact lists, SMS history, ..

This is probably done simply in order to provide maximum convenience
to end users.
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