Read time: 4 - 5 minutes
For big companies like Apple and Google, being able to offer the customers and users confidence in the fact that their private data is safe is of the utmost importance. It's not just the idea of feeling your data is safe, it's knowing that it will be safe and that all features and measures have been taken to ensure this safety. While any product or online service can be at risk of being hacked, with the right tools at our disposal, most of us maintain a level of confidence in the businesses behind set products and/or services.
The recent court order made by the United States government for Apple to provide the FBI with a backdoor means of accessing the iPhone 5c that was used by Syed Farook, who is suspected to have been involved in the San Bernardino shootings in December last year, has led the tech giant to not only appeal the decision but to speak out to the public to encourage a widespread discussion related to the issues of data privacy.
The issue at hand
The reason for Apple's appeal against the court's decision and bringing this issue to light is because if the company were to develop a means in which the FBI could gain backdoor access to the iPhone 5c in question, it would open the floodgates to the security of all iPhones being compromised.
CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, sent out a series of tweets noting his support of Apple's decision to fight the order and turn to the public for discussion:
1/5 Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016
2/5 We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016
3/5 We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016
4/5 But that’s wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data. Could be a troubling precedent— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016
5/5 Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue— sundarpichai (@sundarpichai) February 17, 2016
Public discussion and why it matters
Over the past few years, the issue of data privacy has come to the fore numerous times. One of the biggest events was when Edward Snowden leaked information about the National Security Agency (NSA) and how its level of surveillance surpassed what anyone initially thought, including intercepting the communications of more than a billion people worldwide. Snowden's leaks led to him having to seek asylum in Russia, and he continues to be a subject of controversy.
However, regardless of the varying opinions about Snowden, his actions brought the issues of mass surveillance and government power vs personal privacy to public attention. While Apple's decision to publicly denounce the court's decision regarding the FBI's ongoing investigation isn't as controversial, it creates a similar situation: the public now knows how their privacy could be affected if the company is forced to create a digital backdoor for law enforcement and government agencies.
Last year, laws were passed by the Australian government which will allow them to access two years' worth of meta data from all Australian citizens. While the majority of Internet Service Providers campaigned to bar these laws from being passed, they were ultimately passed without many citizens even being aware of it. Some ISPs tried to bring the issue of data retention into the public eye, but overall most Australians remained unaware of these changes occurring in the background.
Debate matters, especially when it has to do with someone's security and right to privacy in a digital world. Even if you believe Apple and Google only spoke out against the court ruling to earn PR points, what matters is that they did speak out. That way, if Apple do end up losing in their appeal, the public has still been made aware of yet another problematic aspect in the world of digital security.
Ultimately, even if opposition to a government ruling or behaviour that impacts our privacy doesn't cause change, it at least keeps us informed. These disagreements between an indiviudual/company and the government aren't being relegated to the shadows, but rather a light shone directly on them - and that matters in empowering the general public, even if the end result is mere awareness.
Many companies and individuals have backed Apple's fight, which is understandable considering what's at stake. Hopefully, with the abundance of support, data encryption and privacy will win this time around.