Apple and modern technology are front and center in a growing and serious problem that involves the gap between personal privacy and security which does not have a solution that will benefit both components.
In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on. Apple encrypts certain functions on the iPhone and throws away the key so the only one who can get your private information is you. The encryption is strong enough that governments cannot break it; whether it’s your Messages to your co-worker, or a terrorist’s Messages to a co-terrorist.
There is no easy solution to this problem that will satisfy all parties, but the solutions proposed are worse than the dangers encrypted messages and data carry.
The Back Door Myth
After the Paris terrorist bombings, the San Bernardino shootings, and Apple CEO Tim Cook’s appearance and comments on CBS’ 60 Minutes news show, government officials are calling for technology companies to provide back door access to encrypted smartphones.
Such back door access is a danger that goes beyond tracking, preventing, and capturing terrorists. If there’s a back door to an encrypted device, such as the iPhone, then both the so-called ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ have access to your personal information any time they want. A back door key for all means there is privacy and security for none.
That includes terrorists, except in this case, the terrorists still win.
Let’s assume the worst case scenario and major governments throughout the world demand that Apple, Google, Microsoft and anyone and everyone else who manufactures a smartphone provide said government officials with back door access that opens an encrypted and secure device.
Your messages and data are now available to government officials, and once the back door key has been compromised, and it will be, criminals will have access, too. Meanwhile, terrorists will simply move on, develop or use smartphone and PC apps with encryption that does not have a back door the government can use to access their messages and data.
Even if government officials can track down a terrorists iPhone or Samsung Galaxy or a plastic Android-based knock off from China, and crack access to the device, the apps they used to communicate with one another and to store their files remains encrypted, therefore, no access to criminals and terrorists, but the government maintains access to your messages and data.
Does anyone see a problem with this?
It is clear that government officials and government authorities and government technologists do not understand the nature of encrypted technology and applications, and have even less understanding of human nature.
Can Of Encrypted Worms
In the U.K. there’s a draft surveillance bill moving forward in the government which would force companies operating in the U.K. to weaken encryption with a back door, or abandon encryption altogether. This is wrong and opens up a huge can of worms because the protections and options demanded by the government are unfeasible on many levels, not just technological.
Smartphones which have encryption capability built-in will be preferred and more valuable to everyone– including terrorists– than smartphones which have been compromised by laws that do not solve the problem. Instead, savvy smartphone users will begin using apps and data storage options which are encrypted and for which the governments do not have back door access.
Here are some questions to consider and answer.
- What is gained by giving governments access to your messages, personal files and data?
- What is lost by giving governments access to your messages, personal files and data?
- What will terrorists and criminals use if smartphones have encryption but back door access is available to government authorities?
One U.S. presidential candidate said this about the issue:
Maybe the back door isn’t the right door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that… It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after… There must be some way.
Other than Big Brother, a Nest camera in every room in every house and on every corner, and constant surveillance of everyone using facial recognition and algorithms that track every movement and identify potential wrongdoing, Minority Report style, there is no solution.
Terrorism as we’ve seen in the past decade is not likely to go away in the next decade, regardless of what governments do with encryption. The problems are deeper and the solutions more complex than technology can solve.