Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Off Topic Tuesday #5: Apple, security, and privacy

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, there's a big kerfuffle going on in America between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple over the iPhone belonging to the two gunmen behind last year's terror attack in San Bernardino. The issue is that the iPhone is encrypted and the FBI wants Apple to install a backdoor so that they can see if there's anything important in it. Apple is refusing to do it on grounds of security and the misuse by the FBI of some law from like 1789. This has led to a larger debate over privacy and security.

I understand both sides of the debate and they both have valid concerns. On one hand, that iPhone could very well contain valuable information about the attack, including who gave the terrorists the money to buy the guns used in the attack. On the other hand, this is pretty much the top of a slippery slope. If the FBI can force Apple to install a backdoor on its devices, then what's stopping them or any other law enforcement agency from doing the same with other companies? Indeed, there's talk of Congress passing legislation that would require all phones, tablets, and computers to have a backdoor in their software for law enforcement to use. Another problem with this is that if someone or a group were to find a way to exploit this backdoor, countless millions of people would be at risk for all sorts of threats and malicious actions.

It's certainly a dilly of a pickle. Do you surrender some privacy for the sake of security or do you preserve privacy but put national security at risk? Is there a way to balance the two to the best of satisfaction or will the scales always unbalanceable? I think it'll always be the last one. There's simply no way, in my opinion, to find a balance between privacy and security and it'll always tip back and forth between the two. The problem is that we want both, but at the same time are unwilling to surrender either. We hold privacy as one of the dearest things to our heart, but we want security too, to be protected from ill and harm. When the cost of that security starts to nibble away at privacy, however, we denounce the intrusion and push back as hard as we can.

Where do I stand on this? I'm leaning towards Apple's side. Like I said, I see both sides of the argument and their concerns are both valid. But this isn't a dire situation to warrant what the FBI wants Apple to do. If the attackers were part of a larger cell and there was a threat of another attack and that phone potentially contained information to prevent that attack, then yes the FBI's demands would be warranted. If the FBI had information that something like that was possible, then they would have pushed for Apple to install a backdoor sooner rather than later. This is just the FBI flipping over even the smallest pebble it can find in search for clues that might not even exist.

So what do you think? Should Apple give in to the FBI's request and install a backdoor? Should the government pass legislation requiring backdoors on all electronic devices? Does privacy trump security or vice versa? Let me know in the comments below.

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