Our digital security is under attack; Apple vs FBI (FBiOS) is a battle for encryption, our fundamental right to privacy and against mass surveillance, cyber criminals, and terrorism.
This storm has been publicly brewing since the 16th of February when a Californian court requested Apple to unlock an iPhone followed by Tim Cook’s open letter response. Since then everyone from politicians and privacy advocates to the leaders of big-name tech companies and the cyber security community have weighed in with their support and opinions. If Apple is compelled to comply with the recent FBI order to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, it will kick-start a chain of events that will have far-reaching consequences beyond the scope of this particular case that will not only put our digital security at risk but our personal security also.
“I’ve got nothing to hide” — Really? Just think….
The Security Perspective
If Apple complies with the court order and this backdoor is created the security and financial impacts to ordinary people could be enormous. In 2014, the cyber crime market was worth in excess of $400 BN. That money came from everybody either directly or indirectly as a result of cyber crime activity.
Today, people consciously share lots of personal data and there are surveillance programs which capture data not publicly shared. The current security features of the iPhone provide protection not only on a privacy level but on a security level as people and businesses trust the encryption keeps their data safe.
If this backdoor is created, it not only sets a dangerous precedent, but it is technology that will at some point fall into the hands of criminals. Now, imagine if these criminals had the ability to remotely bypass the encryption on any device to access your data. This will create a new era of cyber crime, an era where information that’s stored on an iPhone can never be considered secured. It will not only lead to an increase in online crime, but to an increase of crime in the physical world also. Consider the data stored on a business’s device or even the device of a prominent person in society; if this data falls into the wrong hands it could lead to increased blackmail, extortion, fraud, robberies, kidnappings, and terrorism.
The Privacy Perspective
Whenever these debates arise, many in the general public echo the rhetoric often uttered by some leaders and organizations.
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”– UK Government slogan upon the introduction of a nation-wide CCTV program.
As the Apple vs FBI case continues to be a prominent headline story with both sides of the debate getting daily coverage, it appears that the general public marginally supports the FBI. At the time of writing, a Pew survey shows that 51% of the people polled believe that Apple should comply with the order. This is unsurprising and understandable from the perspective that people want the authorities to do a thorough investigation for the victims of the San Bernardino attack. While both sides of the debate, including Jumble, sympathize with the families of this horrendous attack, the fact remains that compliance with the order will have longer term impacts that unfortunately many people simply can’t envisage.
The privacy argument is one built on deep-rooted principles such as the freedom of speech:
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” — Edward Snowden
For the most part, everybody has something to say and everybody has something to hide, even if it’s some basic personal information. This does not mean everybody is a criminal or terrorist, but there are compelling arguments that your information is your information and when it’s made publicly available there’s an element of power handed to the entities capturing and analyzing your data. So, while there are huge volumes of data collected on people today, unfortunately, for many the impacts will only be realized as technology advances and affects peoples’ day to day life in an even more intrusive way than today.
· Glenn Greenwald’s Ted Talk on “Why Privacy Matters” discusses how people react when they know they are being watched. Ultimately people act differently as they succumb to the public fear of failure and it creates a conformist society.
· Daniel J. Solove, Research Professor of Law at the George Washington Law School, has written extensively about Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have “Nothing to Hide”. The basic premise of the argument is that people take lots of precautions in the real world as regards the privacy of their information, why should it any different online?
Unless somebody goes to extreme lengths to protect their online data, every part of their digital footprint is captured by various entities and if it’s true that “information is power”, well then these companies and agencies not only have your information, they become the ones in control.
If you still think you’ve nothing to hide, just wait….
The encryption battle
The FBI are seeking to create a backdoor that will circumvent the encryption of an iPhone and while this may be seen as one step removed from a direct attack on the iPhone encryption itself, it in no way lessens the significance of the battle as the end result is the same if the backdoor is created — information secured by encryption is now open to anyone who has access to the backdoor!
The original “Crypto Wars” from the 1990’s were lost by the US Government as privacy advocates, internet activists and technology companies realized the ability to access cryptography strong enough that the NSA could not break it. It seems that history is repeating itself except for the fact that the same privacy and security arguments that ultimately won the battle in 2005 have even more resonance with the proliferation of devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Regardless of how Government agencies package this case, it is definitely a battle to protect the encryption of not only one iPhone, but all iPhones.
What happens next?
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks, Government agencies have regularly called for a ban on encryption or sought a backdoor, often without any evidence that encryption was used in the particular attack. Encryption today may insulate some criminal activity of a few, but it protects the privacy and more importantly, the security of everybody.
“You have to fight for your privacy or you lose it” – Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and Chairman
On February 26th Apple will put their case forward and it’s expected that as part of their defense they will cite the constitutional right to freedom of speech and the fact that the authorities have greatly inflated the scope of the 227-year old All Writs Act to compel them to insert a backdoor in the modern day iPhone. While the outcome is unclear, one thing is certain, this conversation will continue for a long time.