Privacy vs. Public Safety (Part II): Apple Blasts Proposed UK Snooping Bill

by Matt Klassen on December 23, 2015

encryption_1With catastrophic terrorist attacks becoming almost a daily occurrence around the world, it’s really no surprise that governments are looking for ways to enhance and ensure public safety, and as it has always been, mobile encryption standards seem to be the lowest hanging fruit. In fact, as tech companies like Google and Apple continue to bolster their mobile encryption, governments and law enforcement agencies are looking for ways to claw back some investigative powers, now, it seems, in the form of legislation.

Last month the UK government unveiled a draft of its proposed Investigatory Power Bill (DRIPA), a reworking of existing laws that would explicitly allow the government to do what it has been doing for years now, phone hacking and deploying malware on suspect devices, with one key and very controversial addition, that the government will be able to force tech companies to “remove any encryption” when requested by the government or law enforcement.

As expected, the tech industry has lashed out against this proposed legislation, with Apple submitting its own protest in writing, saying that it is “wrong to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat.”

But given that we know clearly where law enforcement, governments, and the tech industry stand on this controversial issue, I have to wonder where the public at large stands on it, or, perhaps, wonder if we are even qualified enough to have an opinion?

At first blush this controversy seems so black and white, and the tech industry would certainly have us believe it is: We want privacy, the government has betrayed our trust in breaking our expectation of privacy, ergo the government needs to find other, legal, means to obtain the information they need. Given that we want privacy, it is fully within the rights of private companies like Apple and Google to meet the needs of their customers, hence the increase in encryption standards that now leave governments and law enforcement agencies out in the cold.

For the government, the problem is decidedly more nuanced; certainly not as black and white as Apple would have us believe. Granted we should all have an expectation of privacy regarding our personal data and communication, but the amount of privacy that can justifiably be expected in this increasingly dangerous world needs to change. The government needs access to information, because amidst the millions of banal and mundane communications about our personal lives is the data they seek, data that could potentially stop terrorist attacks and save lives.

The assumption is, of course, that the government won’t abuse such power, won’t use it to spy on the public without warrant, and will be responsible stewards of our most personal information. Given the fact that governments both here and across the pond have been none of those things does seem to hamper their collective efforts to convince us all to now willingly sacrifice the privacy we naively thought we had all along; like being caught with their hand in the cookie jar, the government has decided to ask for forgiveness, and then still have the gall to ask for permission to do it again.

So back to the issue at hand, Apple, understandably so, sees this in terms of dollars and cents, it makes more money giving it consumers the privacy standards they want, thus interfering with those privacy standards is a demonstrably bad thing.

“We believe it is wrong to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat,” the iPhone maker said.

Now I will say, however, that the government has a point, and I personally believe the pursuit of security has gone too far, particularly the level of encryption available to people who, let’s be honest here, have absolutely no need for it. Now granted the government has worked overtime to muck up its own case, with the NSA’s controversial and illegal PRISM scandal shedding light on the fact that the government has no regard for the privacy of the public, and that those misguided efforts have provided all the impetus necessary for the public to clamour for increased security standards, but that still doesn’t mean that the government is wrong.

The simple fact is that we have to decide what kind of world we want to live in: If we want unbreakable encryption standards on our phones, we have to accept the fact that terrorists, criminals, and other ne’er-do-wells will have the same privilege of privacy, and thus we have to accept the fact that our own efforts stymie the government’s ability to effectively police and proactively respond to threats. If we’re okay with this world, well then Apple is right to resist the UK bill, but I happen to think that some sort of middle ground must exist here, one that allows for enhancing both privacy and public safety, although perhaps it’s already too late for that.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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