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Should there be a ‘back door’ on all mobile devices?

Digital technology has given us all an overwhelming wealth of benefits and advantages that weren’t available 20 years ago. We rely on mobile phones for every aspect of our lives and we store vast amounts of personal data on them including photos, contacts, instant messages, notes and calendar entries about our day to day activities. However, these advancements in new technology have generated further issues around encryption, security and personal data storage and, how this should be managed.

The latest issue that has come to the public’s attention is a data encryption battle currently taking place in America between the FBI and tech giant Apple.

What is the data encryption war?

Apple has been asked by the FBI to hack into an individual’s iPhone. The FBI, and then the US federal magistrate, have requested access to the iPhone of the suspect in the San Bernardino shooting in California. Although Apple has been working hard with the FBI to assist them, the company has refused the request to build ‘back door’ access to the customer’s data.

This has fuelled a big debate about personal security, encryption, and on what grounds people should access sensitive information.

Should the government be allowed to hack into people’s iPhones on grounds of national security?

Using the San Bernardino shooting in California as an example: if the FBI were granted access to the suspect’s iPhone they could uncover information they wouldn’t have been privy to before. This information could help solve the case and incriminate the suspect – and from current evidence, detaining the suspect would very likely be in the best interests of the public safety.

For the FBI to gain access to an individual’s mobile device, Apple (in this example) would need to build an alternative IOS that would allow ‘back door’ entry to the data. However, Apple strongly believes that customers’ data is personal and not meant to be disclosed to anyone else, to the point that even Apple can’t access it. In a statement released on 16 February, Apple (http://www.apple.com/customer-letter/) says: ‘For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.’

The FBI have put Apple in a difficult situation. If Apple were to go ahead and build new software to allow ‘back door’ access, the company would weaken the security that they have worked so hard to build. In 2014, Apple improved their encryption levels to make it mathematically impossible to unlock a device. This new software, in the wrong hands, could hack into anyone’s device.

If the US government wins the case against Apple, this would set a precedent for future cases and other tech companies would no doubt be forced to follow suit. If this were to happen, online personal data would no longer be personal, while user data that is encrypted would still be accessible. Authorities would be able to monitor messages, listen to voice recordings, and spy on live chats.

However, tech giants like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google appear to backing Apple: the brands have recently announced that they are increasing encryption of their own users’ data levels.

There are clear arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ the data encryption battle. If the tech giants win, then this would potentially be placing people above the law, creating a ‘dark’ world of data that even law enforcement agencies wouldn’t have access to. On the flip side, tech giants should protect our personal data – if we can’t trust them to securely encrypt sensitive data, then our daily usage of devices would leave us wide open for hackers, cyber criminals, and data breaches.

Contact us today to learn more about data encryption and IT security.