The Privacy Battle: Apple Vs FBI And Its Impact In Pakistan

The Privacy Battle: Apple Vs FBI And Its Impact In Pakistan

With more than 15 million smart phone users in Pakistan and the industry on the rise, the latest twist in the mobile privacy matters is rather interesting. With the Snowden fiasco still not too far in the past, the FBI has now approached Apple, with an intriguing demand. Requesting Apple to help with investigation on the San Bernardino case, it has asked for the creation of a backdoor to security protocols. Even after Apple has helped with subpoenas and search warrants, the FBI demands that Apple now create a software version that bypasses several security procedures and install it on an iPhone. Whether this may help the case or not is a separate question, the real matter at hand is possible repercussions with this version of software at large.

With credit card information and email passwords stored in Apple’s KeyChain software and conversations and photos backed on iCloud, Apple surely does not want another incident of hacking. Many are still reeling from the photo uploading on 4chan a year and a half ago. As a protective measure, since iOS 8, released shortly after 4chan, all data on the iPhone is encrypted and the only “key” for decryption is held by the user. Specifically, the FBI wants Apple to bypass the ability of the iPhone where 10 wrong passcode trials erase all data. With unlimited trials and with the help of a computer, decryption of the device’s data may be possible using “brute force”. The point of controversy lies on when this software falls into foreign hands, anyone who has malicious intentions, with the right skill set and tools (just a modern computer here) could break right through the layers of security which engineers have spent years building.

Not only is security of existing data a matter of question. This could potentially lead into surveillance softwares incorporated right into our phones. We could be talking about message interception, health and financial records, location tracking or even utilization of a phone’s microphone or camera all without us realizing. What was once termed fiction for Hollywood could very well evolve into reality. More than that, the thought of the US government being able to access all such information freely is revolting. It makes one question where the very rights the US government strongly advocates disappear now. Hence the idea of having to design any system that bypasses security is so vehemently opposed.

What is more frightening is the prospect of hijacking of this software by cyber-criminals. Particularly so while living in Pakistan, a nation already at threat by terrorism. Up till now we have discussed how matters were not acceptable when officials have access. When news of the presence of such software breaks out, malicious users may attempt to gain control of the system. Should a militant group successfully hijack such a system and gain full access to all of the above potentially risked items who knows how severe the consequences could be. The potential scenarios are cringing. The mere thought of such groups having access to just our location given out by phones is scary.

Moreover, this is a battle of customer trust and a state’s plea for ‘security’. When such back doors are opened by private enterprises like Apple, who is to guarantee against loss of their customers? At the end of the day, the lay man is still looking to the more secure product, who is to say the other competitors in the industry who do not have to deal with such government demands end up taking up a share of Apple’s customers. Simultaneously, we have to consider how if this goes in the government’s favour, is that not precedent for the government to contact other companies and demand them the same information. Who is then to protect the interest of consumers worldwide, especially ones here in Pakistan’s booming market.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which he might be associated.

Daoud Ahmed Piracha

Author: Daoud Ahmed Piracha

The writer is a graduating student at Aitchison College. He has a passion for Pakistan’s traditional arts, cuisine and music. He is also concerned about the current affairs of Pakistan and of the world.