Privacy Unlocked

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Illustration by Owen Thomas

When we go home at night and close our blinds, we hope no one has the ability to see through them. We shut and lock our doors behind us for a sense of security and comfort.

Our expectation for online privacy is similar. When we type in our passwords, we hope no one will see our pictures, read our emails or steal our social security numbers. We hope agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which claim to uphold justice, will keep us safe. Yet, as these claims are being made, the bodies meant to protect us are in the process of undermining our privacy and our security.

Recently, the DOJ and FBI mandated that Apple builds software with the ability to override passwords and break down our safeguards. They demanded a password auto-wipe feature that would allow law enforcement officials — and anyone else with comparable tech savviness — to read the data passwords are meant to protect.

Apple is standing its ground and refusing to allow the DOJ and FBI to dictate its software development for the protection of its customers — and rightly so.

It’s not the responsibility of a private entity to alter its products to make them more accessible to investigators, even on a federal level. In fact, Apple’s right to this refusal is protected by the Constitution.

This back-and-forth between Apple and the government is centered around national security concerns following last year’s San Bernardino terror attacks. The assailants, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, destroyed their personal cellphones prior to orchestrating the attack.

Since Farook didn’t destroy his work iPhone, federal and local authorities had a chance to access his iCloud account after the shooting to gain more information. The data, however, wasn’t recoverable when officials reset the password, wand subsequently wiped the device. The agencies in charge of the investigation had a method at their fingertips to investigate the San Bernardino attacks, and they bungled it. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistake, the federal government is instead strong-arming a prominent company to fix the problem for them.

In a widely-shared open letter, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said while the company by no means supports terrorism and has assisted in the FBI’s investigation thus far, the FBI does not understand the severe danger in creating this type of overriding software.

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool,” Cook writes in the letter. “But make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Although it’s been three years since Edward Snowden leaked a number of National Security Agency (NSA) files, his words resonate with what’s currently happening today. “There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny — they should be setting the example of transparency,” he said to The Guardian in 2013.

The government, while large and powerful, isn’t always correct, even if law is on its side. This isn’t just about Farook’s phone or any other phone of a terrorist in question, this is about tens of millions of devices that have important and valuable data in each of our lives.

The DOJ and FBI criticize Apple’s priorities, stating that the company’s sales ploy undermines the concern for the general public about the future stake of personal security.

While we must balance protection of the public with safety from violence, exposing the private information of millions of people is far more damaging. Back doors are dangerous and don’t make us safer, but more susceptible to hacks and persecution.

We deserve security and privacy, and the government should be the ones protecting us, not putting us at further risk.