After being asked by the court to access data stored on an iPhone as evidence for a case, Apple stated that accessing data on iPhones with the two latest versions of iOS (iOS 8 and 9) would be impossible. Apple is one of many companies that have responded to the growing privacy and security concerns that plague our modern world by increasing its focus on protecting users’ data. The recent versions of iOS require a passcode in order to access data kept on the device; a passcode that Apple does not store and cannot access.
The case Apple was responding to happened to involve an iPhone that was not running either of the iOS versions that include this passcode feature but, interestingly enough, Apple asked that they not be required to comply with the court’s request to access the phone’s data. Clearly, Apple takes their users’ privacy seriously – seriously enough to stand up to a magisterial body over this issue.
The law has been slow to adapt to the privacy and security issues that are at the forefront of many people’s minds today. The Snowden revelations certainly didn’t help the government’s reputation for giving due respect to the privacy of its citizens. The current situation with Apple highlights the government’s lack of incentive to protect individual privacy when it is at odds with their processes.
Some might say that the defendant had given up the right to privacy, and that the information on that smartphone may be a key piece of evidence that is necessary for the court’s decision. But is jeopardizing the privacy and security of everyone in order to convict a few more criminals really a fair trade-off? Isn’t the American legal system supposed to operate on the basis of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? A world where everyone is asked to give up their privacy in order to assist the government in the conviction of criminals would be an Orwellian world indeed.
It’s just a fact that by sacrificing security and privacy, criminals and bad actors will also have that same potential access as the government; a triple threat, if you like, of equally odious groups. As it stands, improving privacy/security protections (think passcodes and encryption) for the average person would make it harder for the growing number of cyber-criminals to take advantage of them. Whether or not crime rates would actually substantially increase or decrease is impossible to predict, but this is not really the issue at hand. The reasonable hope is that repercussions of whatever cyber-criminal activity happens to exist would be far less damaging to people if they were afforded ample security.
Apple has certainly demonstrated that it believes user privacy to be of paramount importance. We can only hope that other companies will follow suit and take the same stance. Their position as an industry leader certainly affords them heavy influence in this arena. The move towards the unqualified protection of private data in recent versions of iOS bodes well for the future.