When Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA surveillance, it was pinpointed that big corporations act as cahoots for the governments; Apple has made the first move to break the barrier with their increased encryption protocol.
“The people are vulnerable, the people need protection” has been the mantra of the Governments for some time now, how far should the reach be has always been a debate and that too of a polarizing nature. Protection of basic rights should not be a luxury, it should be a given. The notion of pre-emptive strikes like the science fiction flick “Minority Report” has captured the imagination of the lawmakers. The line between surveillance has slowly been erased to a limit where it feels like living in “Big Brother”, but only this time it is totally real.
The recent update and improved iPhone encryption developed in to IOS 8 provides a great opportunity for the users to get their rights back. The first benefit that all the critical (and in most cases highly personal and sensitive data) including pictures, messages, personal contacts, call history, to do lists, reminders are totally encrypted and that too by default. No one except you will be able to access the content of your iPhone, the only exception being the case if your password gets compromised through a human error – a happening that renders even the most complex and excellently designed system to nothing. The pin though, can be converted into an Alpha Numeric character from the traditional 4 digit numeric sequence mostly used as of now. An advantage that makes guess work through brute force or personal information knowledge almost useless
This development of giving privacy to the end user, a development which should be universally acclaimed has seen a host of reservations labeled on it, especially from the law enforcing agencies. US Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director James Comey have led a staunch resistance against the IOS upgrade, a possible act of defiance from the status quo aiming to keep the things as they are. They argue that it gives too much power to the criminals and law enforcing agents will be unable to crack the security codes of the seized phones leading them to have no vital information about the criminal and how they committed their crime. Chicago police chief has gone so far that he claims that it will become the number one choice for criminals easily disregarding the fact that even before iPhone upgraded its encryption, a certain company called blackberry did offer complete privacy to the users – funnily a phone of choice for many politicians and industrial tycoons!
Like Blackberry before it, Apple will also deny provision of user data to a third party regardless of their vocation and search warrant, an act that has made the law agencies extremely nervous and left them sweating. The feds had already lost the crypto wars once before, the crypto wars of the 1990’s. As the Clinton administration wanted to have trapdoor keys in consumer telecommunication products, a trap door ensuring that NSA, FBI, CIA and the others could access any device at any time for information access based on a specific sequence of commands or master encryption key. This not only weakened the crypto algorithms that were to be designed by the American companies, it was also something which was not viable – foreign companies had literally no obligation to follow such a ruling. Despite losing the war, strong encryption rarely made it to the ever day world. The use was limited, for banks for money transactions, for e-commerce business but mostly nothing much.
The new wave of leaks has made the user trust get truly and totally corroded. If Snowden helped in blowing the lid over the happening, celebrity hacking, and password compromises from major names has made it almost impossible for the users to trust the enterprises. And this trust is something that the enterprises want back. Google and Apple are companies, businesses that aim to make money, money got from users only after the users have used or use their products. It does not matter how finally Apple have come to the conclusion that encryption should be for everyone and everything. The thing that matters is that iPhone IOS 8 for implementing stronger encryption and Google for announcing better data security measures should be acknowledged. They have done and are doing a good job for the end customers and there should be no need to debate it.
Looking at the complete picture, yes there will be some criminals who may get lesser punishments due to lack of evidence obtained from their phone or other activity but the percentages will be smaller. Many of the phones seized may even not have any detailed incriminating information; criminals are in most cases very intelligent people. In case the person in custody, there would be more than one way to get the person to talk, plea bargains, lighter deals, and proper investigation are tools that still work in the modern era. The suspects can be forced to give their keys; through legislation in law (the definition of a suspect is again a grey area and this has implications that require work around and clarification).
The fact of the matter is that we are not criminals and it is about time that the government starts treating everyone as criminals. Cell phones have helped the law enforcers and they will keep doing that. There needs to be a line drawn though, between an innocent citizen enjoying their privacy and a criminal who has committed a felony. What Apple has done is an example that must be followed by other tech companies – after all the government owns us our privacy.