Taking A Bite Out Of Privacy: FBI versus Apple

Privacy is a particularly touchy subject right now. In Silicon Valley, we just watched Apple take on the FBI when the feds asked the company to unlock an iPhone owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple said no. After the government found a third party to successfully hack the iPhone, the Feds dropped its demand.

The case set off a national debate on privacy versus national security. It’s a battle that been heating since Edward Snowden leaked secret National Security Agency files on domestic surveillance of phone and Internet records three years ago.

Governments and technology companies are in a constant tug of war over privacy and security. There have been mixed results. Last year, for example, a New York state appeals court ruled that Facebook had to hand over information on hundreds of users suspected of Social Security fraud.

What is our expectation of privacy when we want to feel safe and secure in times of terrorism? And what is our expectation for privacy in an age where we already readily give up individual information so freely?

Think about this. We live our lives on Facebook. We Instagram. We tweet everything about ourselves on the Internet. We live in a time when we provide our credit card information, our home addresses and our telephone numbers to vendors online without thinking twice. We think it’s all safe and secure. Encryption tells us so.

With this in mind, we keep an amazing amount of seemingly private information on our smart phones – from basic contacts and telephone numbers to health and medical information on apps we use every day. Smart phones have become our miniature offices on the road, connecting us to work files and emails – all full of private information.

Do we sacrifice a little byte of our privacy each time we “like” a Facebook post or retweet a political observation?

Here’s the reality we live in – not only do we lose a little bit of our privacy each time we sign on to our smart phones and gadgets, we lose a little bit of our privacy each time we walk onto a street or into a public building where cameras are mounted. Nowadays, we expect to be videotaped every time we are in train stations or an airport. In today’s society; we have willingly given up a certain sense of privacy to feel secure. After all, cameras mounted on streetlights and buildings helped capture the Boston marathon bombers. Public cameras gave us the first look at those who bombed Belgian’s train stations and airport. Ironically, Big Brother in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four yielded power by keeping citizens under constant surveillance.

But it’s what we put online that’s still in the grey zone. While we willingly give up information online; we expect our private data to be encrypted, secure and relatively off limits.

The FBI has argued that its fight against Apple was not at all about privacy, but about security and fighting terrorism. But Apple continues to defend its stance with this statement after the FBI closed the case:

“From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.”

… “Apple believes deeply that people in the United States and around the world deserve data protection, security and privacy. Sacrificing one for the other only puts people and countries at greater risk.”

In the end, the titan battle between Apple and the FBI never materialized when the third party company stepped in and helped the government unlock the phone’s encryption code.

For now, technology companies are still holding their collective breath. However, we all know another battle will come in court.

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