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Apple, the FBI, terror and privacy

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is.” So writes James Comey, the Director of the FBI, in a short opinion piece published in Lawfare.

Apple rebutted with an FAQ that addresses a variant of the “one-phone/one-time” question many people are asking: “Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?” The answer:

“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.”

Most Americans, however, don’t see it like that. They want to see this iPhone unlocked and their sympathy lies with the victims of the terrorists and not with Apple or those who are arguing the privacy case.

And this brings us to the bigger picture. As regular Rainy Day readers know, digital technology is expanding dramatically and the much-heralded Internet of Things (IoT) is on the way to making human-machine connectivity ubiquitous. Soon, every new home and apartment that’s built will come with embedded sensors, Bluetooth-enabled door locks and motion-activated security cameras. Family members will use their smartphones to manage domestic devices and appliances remotely; autonomous cars will be filled with digital technology, while wearable tech such as health trackers, augmented glasses and smart watches will record user activity. All of this will have a huge impact on privacy because these technologies could allow private and public agencies to monitor movement and interaction. That Samsung TV might be listening to family discussions, after all. Do people want governments, technology firms and insurance companies to have unlimited access to their homes, cars and personal life?

Seen from this perspective, the FBI is not just requesting a “back-door” into an iPhone; it’s establishing a precedent to capture and analyse a person’s data stream, regardless of the source. If the US concedes the human right to personal privacy, goes the argument, other nations will follow and Russia and China will use “security” to justify their authoritarian regimes. And the terrorists? They’ll continue to be early adopters, using the latest technologies to stay ahead of the law.

This just in: Bill Gates Is Backing the FBI in Its Case Against Apple


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