Op / Ed

States Propose Bans On Encrypted Phones

A new bill proposed in California by Democratic Senator Jim Cooper would require that no cell phones sold after January 1, 2017 have “unbreakable” encryption.  This would be a big change and would force Apple to either comply or not be able to sell iPhones (or could other companies sell Android phones) on its own home turf.

The new bill is just another piece of the long issue regarding privacy rights and the ability of the government to “oversee” the populace, in theory, to prevent mass terrorist or other crimes.

The privacy debate is certainly not new.  Until now Apple has refused to unlock or decrypt iPhones or other devices, sticking securely to their staunch pro-privacy stance.  Google has also followed suit, however in certain cases they have been forced to turn over certain user data.

Certain apps such as iMessage are encrypted, and Apple cannot even allow the government access to the information.  However these new proposals would make sure that there would be a “backdoor” type of access.  For example, the US Wiretap laws force phone companies to comply with government access to phone lines.  The new bills would force Apple (and other encrypted device makers) to allow a “wiretap” feature to iMessage.

CEO Tim Cook said that he would “never allow” a backdoor access to the iMessage services.  However some security researchers have said that there are some security vulnerabilities with iMessage that would enable access.  Some of those flaws reside in the way that iPhone users “verify” each other and also the way that cloud storage of iMessages is enabled (often by default) for users.  Cloud data could be subpoenaed or hacked.

So could the government potentially force Apple to comply with their demands?  The threat of heavy financial fines and sanctions could eventually make Apple fold to demands.  However, voters and the public could also rally and vote down these bills and new laws – after all, don’t the voters decide how the government should be run?  Perhaps in a perfect world, but still.

Most people seem staunchly pro-privacy.  However I find that I am in more of a middle ground.  With nothing to hide, I prefer the minor loss of privacy (I never feel as though the government would be spying on me, and I wouldn’t care because all they would find are texts to my friends about where to meet for dinner) in exchange for greater public safety and protection from the growing threat of hyper violent terrorist attacks.  But then that of course leads to the slippery slope of “big brother” and 1984 type government institutions becoming too powerful.

What do you think?  Do you believe that people should have ultimate privacy when it comes to electronic communication?  Do you think that current federal wiretap laws on “land lines” should be repealed?  Do you think that a tradeoff in minor personal privacy for public security is a fair trade?

I understand that in liberal circles it would be very untrendy to be anti-privacy (even a little bit).  However I can see the benefits of allowing the government to access certain communications.  I don’t believe that they would spy on average citizens, however maybe I am too naive.  The film “The Lives Of Others” is a great example of how government surveillance could just go too far.


Bill Gordon

Bill Gordon has been writing on tech and malware subjects for 6 years and has been working in the internet and tech industry for over 15 years. He currently lives in Southern California.

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