Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Privacy?

Apple innovators have always prided themselves on their ability to cater to the demands of the consumer. Usability is high on the priority list. This priority recently came under scrutiny when hackers accessed the iCloud accounts of celebrities, posting personal photos on the Internet. Demands for higher security measures quickly arose as Apple was faced to contend with accusations of negligence and putting ease over security. The accusations were reminiscent of the 2013 Edward Snowden scandal. Both cases, emphasized the need for higher consumer protection on electronic devices as a means of preventing access to personal data, whether the hacker be a deviant individual or the government.

Apple, once again has responded to the demands of the masses, developing a standard encryption to its new iPhone iOS8 software. The encryption is said to be impenetrable, even for law enforcement.

The responses to such technology have varied. While many applaud the decision by Apple to develop tighter security, others see the new protection as a hindrance to law enforcement. For the first time, the encryption of your personal data- photos, messages, contacts, call history- are encrypted by default. However, law enforcement officials, rather than applauding the boost in security, warn that the inability of officials to access information stored on smartphones will hurt criminal investigations. John Escalante, chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department suggests the iPhone will become-

“the phone of choice for the pedophile.”

In an open forum hosted by The Washington Post, Stewart Baker writes,

This year, the Supreme Court ruled that the police need a warrant to search cellphones seized at the time of arrest. But with Apple’s new encryption, probable cause and a warrant will be of little help to the police who seize a suspect’s iPhone and want to search it. That decision should not be left to Apple alone.”

The writer notes that global pressure from regulatory bodies in multiple (and more authoritarian) nations may eventually force Apple to compromise the security of their phones.

As Jonathan Keim states in his piece published by the National Review Online, while some criminal investigations may be impaired, the end of the world (or, the end of police investigations) is not at stake. It is not illegal for Apple to encrypt their phones. In fact, he points out, that in doing so the company reduces the risk of thieves stealing their customers’ personal property. Furthermore, in a corporate environment, an encrypted phone prevents business secrets from being leaked or sold to competitors.

Keim also suggests that the success of Apple’s new encryption means the technology used to crack the technology “would match up with the importance of the case.” In other words,

Only the national-security agencies would figure out how to defeat iPhone encryption, would guard that knowledge closely, and only deploy it in connection with the most important national-security cases (although with no guarantee of timely success).”

According to the piece, there are a few less than satisfying ways for the government to respond to Apple.

Regulate Encryption- While regulation has been used in the past as an export control, there is little such controls can achieve in restricting the international distribution of software. As technology advances, physical boarders become less and less relevant.

Mandate Government-Accessible Backdoors for Telecommunications Devices- While this option would allow the government access to the devices, its downfall is an increased awareness of the government’s presence and therefore decline in consumer confidence. This would likely reduce Apple sales.

Secret Backdoor- Keim suggests Apple could potentially create emergency access for law enforcement officials to be used. However, doing so would defeat the original attraction of creating the encryption in the first place.

As law enforcement officials and consumer advocates go head to head over the extent of the Apple encryption, questions of consumer privacy take the forefront of the matter. To what extent should consumers be granted privacy?


Read more here- “Vexing Problems with Apple’s Encryption Scheme,” (Jonathan Keim, The National Review Online)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.



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