A lot of questions floated around when tech giant Apple denied access to FBI for an important ongoing investigation in the US. Most of the large companies, including rivals like Google and Facebook supported Apple that access to such private data should not be provided to the government. Now, companies with deep pockets have access to top attorneys in the US, so FBI made a smart move instead by figuring out ways to take the data right out of the phones.
Years ago, RIM (Research in Motion) that made Blackberry phones landed in trouble in multiple countries over the Blackberry messenger encryption. The company responded to government that they themselves are unable to read the data which is encrypted. But finally, they did have to make some compromises.
It can be clearly understood that tech giants fear data being compromised when the government demands access to it and it classifies as an invasion of people’s privacy. Now, think about the applications, hardware stack and algorithms used by the government. For a state or federal government software application, when important data needs to be hosted, such systems need to have certified compliance with standards defined by Department of Defense, ISO etc. These systems are no inferior to what the corporate giants use.
On the other hand, we know that most of the software giants collect personal data very easily. It’s quite possible that Google knows what I am going to eat for lunch today or deduct the probability that I prefer to eat at restaurant B compared to restaurant A. All these tech companies readily use the data to advertise to me targeting my personalized interests. But all hell breaks loose when a government agency seeks to unlock the phone of a suspect or a criminal!
In the past, there have been massive data breaches when millions of records containing credit card information, Social Security Numbers, addresses etc. were compromised. It needs to be understood that nothing is 100% secured. So giving the government access to unlock a phone has nothing to do with questioning the security of your data. Every law-abiding citizen needs to be aware that the government collects data not to advertise a product or to date your daughter or steal money from your Bank account. It is to ensure your security from anti-social elements. So, if you are quite worried about the privacy of your data, you must first be ready to disconnect your internet; stop using a cellphone, credit cards and pretty much stop using any technology.
My point is not that companies should give a background access to the government. But in matters of important investigations, it would make a lot of sense for these companies to have a sense of social responsibility and to assist officers of law. But the hardships that a police officer or Military or any investigation agency officer faces on duty every day, working to maintain law and order and to prevent problems in the society are seldom understood by the public.
With the existent law, anyone coming in to US or Puerto Rico, need to switch on their technical gadgets, so officials can see it working. I recall one instance at London’s Heathrow airport on transit when an officer noticed that I carried a number of gadgets and mentioned it could be troubling since I need to switch all these devices on and off. I told him, “No, I would be rather willing to do that to protect myself and everyone onboard. I don’t want some idiot to sneak in a mac bomb onboard threatening everyone’s life “. The officer remarked: “Not everyone understands Sir, people argue most of the time”. Well, it is a common scene in many airports when people argue with TSA officials disregarding the fact that they’re trying to do their job. When something goes wrong, the public will blame the government organizations while people who argue at airports seem to do so, arrogantly proclaiming that: “I should be protected, but you can check everyone else except me!!”
I wrote this article after noticing that Whatsapp has swiftly undertaken to include end-to-end encryption for their messenger service. This means that even if the government or any court orders to collect the transmitted data (Voice/Chat), then neither Whatsapp nor its parent company, Facebook, can help decrypt it.
So the question is, by ensuring data privacy on one hand, are we creating a safe channel for unwanted elements like criminals or terrorists to communicate easily?
Are things leading to a ridiculous life-threatening point when technology companies realize the need to screen their future customers by performing a background check? How would they like the huge market of 2Billion shrink down? Less marketing perhaps??