The big tech news of the week is Apple’s statement that it would not create special software to help the FBI crack into one of their phones, despite being used by terrorists. The punditry is divided on this issue. No one would argue that the security of our nation, and of other people around the world, is important. If there is evidence on this phone that could possibly help find even more radicalized terrorists, and prevent them from taking actions, then we should be considering all possibilities.
Yet at the same time, that possibility has ramifications that could change the very shape of digital privacy as we know it. Ever since the world has gone more digital, privacy has been a thorny issue. If you use Google products, or Facebook, your identity and preferences are known to advertisers all over the world. The notion of privacy online is often a fallacy, and the best that you can do is protect yourself by not revealing more than you’re comfortable with being in the public realm.
Yet, does this acceptance of lack of privacy in certain online arenas mean that we should default all of our digital life to public scrutiny? Apple’s point in its letter is, that creating tools that can circumvent people’s expectation of privacy is opening a genie in a bottle that will never be able to be put back. If we start to insist that there is no privacy in the digital realm at all, then we risk becoming a fearful people, forever enslaved to the worry that someone, somewhere, may in fact be spying on us.
Some would say that terrorism is about fearing for our life. Yet, by giving up our digital freedoms we begin a new journey of fear. Fear of our government, our police forces, and even unscrupulous neighbors. Giving up our digital privacy and freedoms is a win for terrorism. I’m proud that Apple (and other companies standing beside them) are standing up to try and put a stop to rampant privacy disintegration. I certainly don’t believe that Apple is innocent when it comes to protecting all of my privacy, but on this particular issue, they are standing on the side of the people.