In the News / Legal Topics / Social Media

Apple Privacy Debate: is the saga now over?

AppleThe latest development in the Apple phone privacy saga may have come as a surprise to many. I joined TRT World to discuss what’s occurred and what is still to come.

Despite the US Justice Department postponing a hearing last week – citing news that they ‘may’ be able to use a third party to recover files from San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook’s iPhone 5C – many thought it was a bluff on the part of the US Government, along with threats against Apple to disclose the coding for its operating systems. But now, the case against the world’s largest company has been ended, with the government claiming that they have successfully recovered data from the phone.

The government has said that it had third party assistance in accessing the data, but little more. Rumours that Israel-based Cellebrite, which has an existing contract with the FBI since 2013, are involved in the present hack were not quashed when the Department of Justice refused to commit to whether it was performed in the US.

The methodology for cracking Apple’s encryption has already been designated as classified, refusing to share it with Apple who will not be pleased that a way in has been found in spite of its protestations to the contrary. Whether this secrecy is to protect the Justice Department’s methods for future use or to prevent the potential for future unauthorised and criminal hacks is moot. The moral is that no matter what hardware or software developers produce to protect data privacy, someone will find a way around it.

The debate continues

Far from being the only case of its type, with Apple involved and battle lines drawn between the Obama administration and silicon valley,  this is the one that has grabbed the world’s attention. Debates will continue to rage at every level of society and across every state and continent. Around the world, courts are dealing with privacy issues every day, but without global scrutiny. Even in New York, an application by the Justice Department seeking to gain access to a drug dealer’s phone was denied. Federal judge James Orenstein recognised that by invoking the 1789 All Writs Act (the same legislation as cited in the San Bernardino case), ‘the implications of the government’s position are so far-reaching… as to produce impermissibly absurd results’. Although not setting precedent, we may never know what would have happened in a Californian ourtroom showdown with Apple.

That said, the battle is far from over and remains unresolved, but it seems that no technology can be considered watertight despite what manufacturers may claim. In refusing to comply with the previous court order, Apple made a big play on the fact that its customers relied on its claims of security and privacy, with the Department of Justice calling it out on what it perceived to be PR spin. As a consequence, Apple has put pressure on itself to look again at its products and be seen to do more to increase security.

The news that an Apple device has now been accessed by a third party will be of real concern not only to its millions of individual customers, but also to the commercial clients who rely on Apple devices because of the privacy and security assurance the company offers.

Data protection is one of the hottest topics in the business world, with banks and brands desperate to offer their customers the best and most secure services available. The rise in smartphones, apps and wireless connectivity has given birth to a new generation of cyber-criminal, but many still rely on basic, old-style deception techniques a to evade state of the art security features on up to date technology.

As cyber criminals become more sophisticated, it is once again for the consumer to take sensible precautions as much as the likes of Apple and Facebook to protect themselves. Simple steps and awareness of your surroundings will go some way to help, along with basic common sense. In order to protect themselves, it is also the responsibility of employers to educate their employees in the safe and secure use of ever-evolving technology.

Here are some tips for you and your staff:

  • Be aware of scams and phishing emails and social media communication
  • Think twice before sharing your passwords
  • Avoid accessing unknown or insecure wi-fi networks
  • Use complex and varied passwords
  • Change your passwords regularly
  • Make the most of online security settings – and stay on top of them
  • Update your apps and operating systems

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