Data privacy vs. national security

Apple to release iOS 9.3 after fixing iMessages encryption vulnerability

The hotly debated issue of national security versus data privacy has been making headlines all over the world due to the iPhone encryption case pitting the US Department of Justice against mammoth technology company Apple Inc.

A US District Court judge in California ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the encrypted iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters who killed 14 people and seriously injured 22 in December 2015. Apple refused the court order saying it will not destabilize its products’ security features because that would leave customers vulnerable to hackers and other serious cyber threats.

Specifically, the FBI wanted Apple to write and turn over new code that would allow federal data analysts to break Apple’s encryption key. It is asking Apple to develop software that would weaken its own product – create a “backdoor” that would admit government hackers into the heart of its operating system.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s open letter to customers denounced the FBI’s actions and court order saying, “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step, which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.” 

He followed up with a similar email to all Apple employees thanking them for their support, reiterating that Apple has no sympathy for terrorists, and outlining how Apple has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with investigators and comply with information requests. But he urged prosecutors to withdraw their demand to turn over encryption secrets arguing it sets a dangerous precedent from both a technical and a personal privacy perspective.

Most technology experts and privacy advocates agree with Apple. They say that forcing US companies to weaken their encryption methods would invite attention from unscrupulous hackers, expose private data, threaten Internet security, and give a competitive advantage to technology companies in other countries.

Atlanta Defense Attorney Allen Yates commented, “Apple’s pushback against the government’s aggression in this case is understandable given the tech giant’s desire to protect its products, and more importantly, its customers and the ability to access their data. It is always a sensitive issue when the government invokes national security, but allowing the government unfettered access to United States Citizen’s encrypted data will create a very dangerous precedent and have unknown ramifications on the security of our most popular technologies.”

It’s a controversial topic. On the other side of the debate, the FBI and government supporters strongly disapprove of Apple’s refusal to cooperate. They say Apple must comply due to the highly sensitive nature of information that might reside on the phone. The FBI insists the code would only be used for this iPhone – one that had been in the possession of a known, deadly terrorist with allegiance to ISIS.

Like the Apple CEO, FBI Director James Comey also appealed to the public to gain support. He issued a passionate statement on the internet defending his request and saying that it is solely a question of justice for the victims and not intended to set a precedent of any kind. In his words, “We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”

While the immediate legal issues surrounding the battle between Apple and the federal government became moot after the FBI hacked the iPhone itself and announced they were dropping the lawsuit, the entire debate between the right to privacy and national security will clearly continue.

One thought on “Data privacy vs. national security

  1. Between Bernie and Hillary guess who supports the FBI, wants access to all encrypted data, believes that the NSA isn’t collecting enough personal data, isn’t all that concerned about individual freedom in the face of terrorism, and believes the Edward Snowden should be put in jail forever?
    If you said Hillary you’d be correct.
    On this issue Hillary is awful.

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