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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Gray Areas Matter: Encryption

As the technological revolution rumbles along, society is continually challenged by new legal and ethical questions. In 2016, the FBI wanted the California tech giant Apple to provide a backdoor bypass through iPhone security to aide in the investigation of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. The case sparked a national conversation about privacy and safety. Should Apple have been compelled to compromise its phone’s security in the name of public safety? Or does Apple have a right, even a duty, to its customers, to protect the contents of its phones absolutely? The issue is certainly complex, and it’s difficult to immediately see a clear answer — so let’s take a closer look.

The FBI claimed that Apple’s refusal to cooperate with its demands for a master key to all Apple devices prevented the agency from completing an investigation into a devastating terror attack on American citizens and will allow terrorists to continue to hide behind Apple’s high-grade security in the future. While that is technically true, the spirit of that argument is not as convincing when taken in a larger context. Apple’s brand relies on a guarantee of security and privacy to its customers

There are a few reasons why providing the government with an easy-access key is a bad idea. To start, forcing Apple to compromise its own security, a tenet of its very successful business model, would come at a great cost for the company, not to mention its customers. The American government has a shady track record with mass surveillance, most, if not all, of which should be considered unconstitutional. Allowing the government easy access to our personal data is simply not in the best interest of the American people or their liberties. A government that cannot be trusted to respect the rights of its own constituents does not deserve yet another way to exploit them. The American government is accountable to its citizens, not the other way around.

Apple’s commitment to its customers’ privacy was commendable in this case, but as I discussed in one of my previous articles, data collection is king nowadays — and Apple wants in. According to a recent lawsuit, the company allegedly sold information to third parties in an effort to generate revenue, creating a stark contrast when we juxtapose its user privacy policy and its actual decisions. 

Who can the American people trust? The government wants access to your data in the name of safety but has blatantly exploited those methods for malicious purposes. The companies that champion data privacy as a human right sell your information behind your back. Where is there to turn? 

I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think anyone does. But perhaps there is one thing we can agree on: Americans deserve data privacy, and one step we can take in that direction is ensuring that when a company sells a secure system, it’s actually secure. So no, the federal government should not have access to my iPhone or my computer or my bank accounts. Nothing.