Apple’s Descent from Privacy Hero to Privacy Villain
In 2016, I, along with some other privacy advocates including writer and commentator Andrew Napolitano, was applauding Apple Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tim Cook for standing up for privacy and the United States Constitution in a situation that pitted his company against the power of the United States government and the desire of many Americans to seek information related to a mass shooting. Five years later, Apple has decided that, in the name of countering child pornography, it will throw privacy protection for all its customers out the window.
The company has disclosed that it plans to routinely and without even a basis for suspicion search through its customers’ electronic information in an effort to uncover child pornography or images of child sexual abuse. Further, Apple will then, based on the results of the snooping, disable customers’ accounts and inform the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding what was found.
In 2016, Apple was resisting a court order saying the company must help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) break into an iPhone tied to Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik who were being investigated for committing a December of 2015 mass shooting from which 14 people died. Then, Apple Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tim Cook was speaking strongly in favor of protecting privacy in a situation where many people were inclined to support Apple giving in so a heinous crime could be further investigated and more violence potentially prevented.
At the time, I quoted from a statement by Cook regarding that matter. Included was this comment in defense of freedom:
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.Cook also described how much more than the case at hand was at issue. He explained:
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.Fast forward five years and Cook is still the CEO of Apple. Yet, Apple is proceeding to create a backdoor into customers’ iPhones information to advance a “good intention” — countering child sexual abuse or child pornography. All the arguments against taking such an action in relation to the mass shooting apply again. Apple’s planned action is an attack on privacy and leads the way to the company using surveillance software for the freedom-threatening variety of actions Cook warned about in 2016.
Apple now is volunteering to create this new surveillance system that will systematically violate the privacy of all its customers. It is preparing to become a full-fledged member of the surveillance state. At least back in 2016 the FBI had to provide evidence and go through a court to try to make Apple help it search for information on a particular phone. The old Apple stood up to that threat to privacy. The new Apple, in contrast, is preparing to surveille all its customers’ information routinely.
You can read here a Thursday report by India McKinney and Erica Portnoy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation regarding this and other snooping on customers’ information that Apple is planning to roll out.
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