(NSFileProtectionCompleteUnlessOpen): Some files may need to be written while the device is locked. A good example of this is a mail attachment downloading in the background. This behavior is achieved by using asymmetric elliptic curve cryptography (ECDH over Curve25519). The usual per-file key is protected by a key derived using One-Pass Diffie-Hellman Key Agreement as described in NIST SP 800-56A.
The ephemeral public key for the agreement is stored alongside the wrapped per-file key. The KDF is Concatenation Key Derivation Function (Approved Alternative 1) as described in 5.8.1 of NIST SP 800-56A. AlgorithmID is omitted. PartyUInfo and PartyVInfo are the ephemeral and static public keys, respectively. SHA-256 is used as the hashing function. As soon as the file is closed, the per-file key is wiped from memory. To open the file again, the shared secret is re-created using the Protected Unless Open class’s private key and the file’s ephemeral public key, which are used to unwrap the per-file key that is then used to decrypt the file.
Here the document explains that ECDH key exchange is used, but gives no explanation as to why it is needed at all.
It would be more obvious if there was some kind of network between two parties involved, but in this case the only network I can think of is the communication channel between the CPU and the Secure Enclave.
I guess that the answer lies in the "One-Pass Diffie-Hellman Key Agreement" scheme described in §126.96.36.199 of the NIST SP 800-56A (snapshot) document and how it is different from "normal" Diffie-Hellman, but the document goes straight into details that are rather hard to digest.