Since data has become such an integral part of our daily lives, digital privacy has become a hotly debated issue. The argument just got even more heat when, in a public letter to its customers, Apple formally refused orders from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to weaken its iPhone encryption.
The letter from apple
In the letter, Apple explained why it wouldn’t be creating a special operating system that would allow the FBI to access the iPhone left behind by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, California, massacre, because they see this demand as a request for a 'backdoor' into their products that would weaken iPhone security for all.
Prior to this request, Apple wrote that it had complied with all other subpoenas and search warrants from the FBI, providing data that was already in the company’s possession. However, the FBI has been unable to extract data from the iPhone left at the scene of the crime in San Bernardino, prompting the bureau to demand that Apple override security features so it can unlock the phone.
This is where Apple said it had to draw the line. According to the open letter, though the FBI intends for Apple to create this new system for one-time use, there’s no way to guarantee that it won’t get in the wrong hands. If anyone with malicious intent were able to use the software, they could unlock any iPhone in their physical possession. This poses an enormous threat to data security that Apple says it just cannot allow.
Apple’s refusal of the FBI’s orders have already ignited a conversation about digital privacy and the extent of the government’s power. To carry out its request, the FBI is relying on an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789, which says that courts can demand certain requirements of people and companies to comply with orders. Apple’s letter raises concerns about how this use could blur the parameters of the government’s jurisdiction, worrying that this could eventually mean gaining access to anyone’s data without consent.
The importance of encryption
This is why security begets encryption, according to Apple. iPhone passwords are protected by an encryption algorithm so only the user is in control of who knows the password to the device. Apple also designed the phones so that each time a wrong password is entered, the lock screen begins a timed delay and eventually, after enough wrong guesses, the memory is erased. The FBI hoped to bypass that security feature so it could write a computer program that would go through all possible password combinations until the phone was unlocked.
Apple’s Chief Executive Timothy D. Cook, who penned the letter published on February 17, wrote that because smartphone users store so much personal data on their devices, any compromise to security could have harmful consequences. For this reason, encryption is necessary, and weakening any security measures would be putting all iPhone users at risk.
While Apple refuses to create this type of backdoor operating system, hackers are still looking for ways to gain access to people’s personal data to commit identity theft. One way you can improve your protection is by investing in an identity theft protection service that can monitor your credit file, Social Security Number and public records to alert you to certain activity that could indicate fraud promptly. You can also sign up for Privacy Now, a tool that assesses your risk profile and offers tips and additional tools to help you manage your privacy on different platforms.