Apple, the FBI, and your phone.

via flicker, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

via flicker, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over time, phones become extensions of ourselves. There’s a lot on your phone: the entertainment you like, texts to friends, family, and partners, your search history, thousands of pictures and video. Although this doesn’t seem like much, your phone reveals where you’ve been, who you’re with, and what you care about.

Apple is appearing in the news because of a San Bernardino county-owned iPhone confiscated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In general, phones issued by a workplace have higher level security features, and the FBI would like for Apple to create a backdoor for law enforcement to access this particular phone. The FBI’s request is insists it will only apply to this phone, one time. This is oversimplifying the situation for the sake of this writing–a more detailed explanation of the technology and its implications is available here.

The government tends to frame this argument as a trade-off: less privacy for greater security, and who doesn’t want more safety? But, any backdoor developed for law enforcement—even in secret—would be exploited, as data breaches happen all the time without our devices being handed over to investigators.

Apple has confronted the FBI about this before—an article in Wired suggests a handful of other cases. The FBI choosing this incident to lean harder on Apple is masterful. The narrative has all the components driving people to hand over their privacy: terrorists, violence, and investigators just trying to do their jobs in the interest of safety. But who pays for the development of features to bypass operating system security? What does Apple pay for developers to create the impossible, unhackable feature? What does the public pay in access to private spaces?

In security, it’s never about just one phone and cases create precedence which can ultimately erode privacy. Like Barbara Fister I wonder: what is the public interest here? Like Jason Griffey I wonder what I can do as a librarian to protect the interests of my users?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about surveillance, privacy, and what students can do to empower themselves.

If you’d like to learn more about privacy online but aren’t sure where to start, try the Library Freedom Project’s basic class in online privacy.

If you’d like to encrypt a device, check out the tutorials at Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The library uses Google Analytics for many projects. The library doesn’t use any identifying information, but you should still have a choice. Here is how you can opt out if you’d prefer not to be tracked.

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