The iPhone 6 Will Protect You From The NSA — 4 Pros And Cons From The Encryption
You may be completely in love with your new iPhone 6, but the FBI and NSA don't exactly share your feelings. And it has nothing to do with the iPhone's bendiness. Rather, their frustrations stem from Apple's iPhone 6 data encryption, which blocks NSA from monitoring people's cell phones and provides a new level of privacy previously unheard of. Following recent revelations of the NSA's phone tapping, including the ability to bug your phone even while it's off, as well as a number of other questionable surveillance tactics, Apple's response reflects a growing national sense of animosity towards American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
But the move, as great as it is for privacy, may not be the best for safety.
The technology behind the data encryption appears significantly more complex, than previous tools used to protect Apple customers from prying eyes. According to the New York Times, the data encryption involves a "complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess." This means that even if a court orders Apple to turn over the information held within an iPhone 6, the company will only have access to a bunch of "gibberish." The only way to decode the gibberish, Apple says, is to obtain the code, either by breaking it or asking the owner for it.
And that, Apple says, is up to the NSA or FBI to do themselves because Apple won't be getting involved. This essentially relieves the tech giant of any legal (or moral) responsibility when it comes to the contents of your iPhone 6. But is this necessarily all a good development? Or might protecting your own law-abiding self from the NSA and FBI, in turn, be protecting more dangerous characters as well?
Pro: the NSA won't spy on you anymore
This is a pretty big one. Last year, it was revealed that the NSA had the capacity to hack iPhones, Blackberries, and Androids in order to obtain "contacts, call lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information," German paper Der Spiegel reported.
This came months after the Guardian's initial June report, thanks to Edward Snowden, that "telephone records of tens of millions of Americans" were being systematically collected by the NSA. Moreover, a court order that demanded Verizon to release its data on an "ongoing daily basis" was also published, and the Washington Post and the Guardian determined that the NSA was tapping into the servers of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and five other Internet firms to keep tabs on people's online communication.
But now, thanks to Apple's data encryption tool, it could take the NSA and FBI "more than 5 1/2 years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers," an Apple technical guide told the Times. Of course, this may be a vast underestimation of the NSA's computing power, and in reality, it could take significantly less time to break through the code. However, this is still a major step forward in iPhone security.
Con: it could seriously impede the FBI & NSA's crime solving
While it is probably true that your average American isn't worthy of surveillance, there are certainly notable exceptions. Cell phone data, law enforcement agents say, has always helped in catching criminals. But now, one of the major tools the FBI uses to bring offenders to justice has been wiped out.
At a recent news conference, James Comey told reporters, "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law." This is certainly a scary thought — even with a court order, it may be possible to prevent law enforcement agents to obtain valuable information about a suspect's whereabouts, plans, or motives. Comey noted,
The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.
He envisioned a scenario in which desperate parents, in attempts to find their missing child, would approach him "with tears in their eyes...and say, ‘What do you mean you can’t’" get the data?
Pro: court orders and warrants would be more necessary
Even though Apple could theoretically sniff at a court order, it seems unlikely that the tech giant would actively obstruct an investigation, and I would hope would cooperate in situations like the one Director Comey put forth. But for the most part, the data encryption would return us to pre-Patriot Act times, when a warrant was actually protocol for hacking into someone's phone. This, at least, would seem more justified and less invasive than current techniques.
Besides, an expert told the the Times, while the iPhone 6 itself is encrypted, this new technology has no effect at all on carriers like Verizon, who could continue to hand over their location with a warrant, providing location data, call logs and the like if need be. Of course, this raises another important point — the data encryption is only relevant to data on the iPhone itself, not anything that you choose to store on the cloud. This means that the tool does nothing as far as the 4chan leak, which claimed to steal photos from iCloud.
With ISIS becoming a growing threat, especially with their frightening recruitment abilities, internal safety measures now more paramount than ever. But some say that the data encryption is a step in the wrong direction. "Terrorists will figure this out," a senior official predicted to the Times. These criminals could easily keep all their information on the iPhone alone, and avoid using the more vulnerable cloud, keeping law enforcement agents completely in the dark about potentially dangerous plans.
Another official told the Times, "It’s like taking out an ad that says, ‘Here’s how to avoid surveillance — even legal surveillance.’" But Apple says that this simply isn't their problem. Timothy Cook, Apple's CEO, has said time and again that the company's chief, or rather, sole purpose is to "sell devices to people." This has nothing to do with keeping track of what they do on those devices, or letting others in on their activity.
So iPhone 6 data encryption: good or bad? You decide.
Images: Getty Images (6)