Lots of people were happy to hear about Apple’s latest announcement regarding privacy and security on their devices. The latest generation of iPhones and other devices running iOS 8 features stronger encryption methods to ensure the security of users’ personal data. James Comey, the Director of the FBI, was not among those praising the Cupertino giant.

In a briefing for the press last week, the FBI head took a hard stance against the very idea of hardened security for mobile phones. Comey went as far as to call Apple “unpatriotic”, saying that he was concerned about companies “marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

Apple Can’t Unlock iOS Devices, Even For The FBI

What he was referring to is the current form of encryption built into iOS, which makes it no longer feasible for the manufacturer to bypass users’ passwords. So, even under order from the FBI or other law enforcement agencies, Apple will not be able to provide access to users’ data.

Renewing their commitment to providing a high level of security for sensitive data is particularly timely for Apple now. The release of the new version of iOS as well as well as a new statement of their privacy policy come on the heels of a leak of a number of celebrities’ personal photos which were stored in iCloud.

The stories of the leaked photos flooded the media at an rather awkward moment: right before the release of iPhone 6. While I don’t think that there was much short of a natural disaster that would have deterred dedicated iPhone fans from lining up to get the new phone on its release date, the photo leaks certainly didn’t help matters. So the promise of respect for its users’ privacy and no backdoors in any of its products was certainly good PR.

What Really Irked The FBI?

Much more controversial though, was a separate statement which clarified Apple’s privacy policy as it applies to government requests for information. It was in this statement that they not only spoke of scrutinizing such requests before approving them (making a distinction between law enforcement efforts on the behalf of a customer who has lost their device, and those requests which involve the FBI or other law enforcement agencies seeking users’ private information).

Users are assured that “On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data.”

They further boast that less than 0.00385% of their customers had data disclosed in response to government information requests.

Google Is In The Hotseat Too

It’s not just the phones with a fruit logo that have the FBI up in arms. Google has also announced similarly strengthened security in the latest version of their Android OS, currently code-named “Android L”. This will be an automatic form of encryption, which again, the company will not be able to unlock.

The FBI statement equally rebuked Google, saying, “Google is marketing their Android the same way: Buy our phone and law-enforcement, even with legal process, can never get access to it”.

FBI Vs. The Law

It looks to me like Comey and the FBI are treading on some very sensitive ground with this issue. As a long-time advocate of privacy, I’m immediately suspect when I hear a government official expressing an opinion which seems to clearly violate the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment should give assurance that privacy is a fundamental right, and one of the essential liberties that we’re guaranteed as Americans.

So I have to question Comey’s sincerity when he accuses Silicon Valley companies like Apple and Google of furthering their own business goals by obstructing investigations of kidnappings, for example. Apple’s own statement makes it quite clear that, “Our legal team carefully reviews each request, ensuring it is accompanied by valid legal process. All content requests require a search warrant. If we are legally compelled to divulge any information and it is not counterproductive to the facts of the case, we provide notice to the customer when allowed and deliver the narrowest set of information possible in response”.

Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt expressed similar doubt in responding to the attack from the FBI. He commented that the FBI and other agencies have a legal process to follow, and that Google, like Apple, reviews each request on on its own merits to be certain that these come through proper legal channels and are within the law.

A Poor Choice Of Words

I think that Comey made a poor choice when he played the “beyond the law” card. I can’t see FBI winning much public support this way, when they’re trying to advocate what amounts to rampant spying on its citizens. Most of us are aware that the FBI and other government agencies have been eavesdropping on our calls, emails, and text messages for years. Isn’t that also acting like they’re “beyond the law”?

What do you think about this? There are some big questions here. Is the FBI just feeling frustrated because the technology now exists to thwart their efforts to violate our privacy? Has all of this surveillance of everyone actually accomplished anything? Or has it actually been shown to be ineffective in catching and stopping people like the Boston Marathon bomber?

Do you agree with Comey’s assessment? Or are you happy to see big players like Apple and Google fighting back against excessive government invasions into our privacy?

Sound off in the comments section below.

Source: Huffington Post
Website: Apple

About the author

Fred Scholl

I'm an unabashed enthusiast of all things Android, open-source, and technology in general. I'm also an avid music lover and musician, playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and a host of other stringed instruments.

1,093 Comments

  • Im so glad that Apple & Google are stepping up their security. I just don’t think it’s right for the Government or Federal Agency or anybody for that matter to be able to basically act like this is some Communist country and spy on people. Cause the Government and law agencies use anything and everything as a “legal ” reason to get a warrant to gain access to their personal property. Now I understand if they have rock hard evidence against someone who’s a risk to society like sex offenders who need and should be being watched when released from prison. For the rest of their lives as far as I’m concerned cause more than half don’t register like their supposed to any way. Those are the individuals the FBI and Government should be spying on. Not just any random person they want to violate. Our Government is getting to be more answer more like Nazi Germany when Hitler was in action with the way they treat citizens and their rights. Cause if you really sit down and think about it you can really start to see why other countries hate us Americans. It’s not because of our so called Freedom it’s because our Government is so use to violating our rights that our Government basically bullies other countries to get what they want. Think about it. We’re the only country whose in debt that will bomb other countries then turn right around and give that country Billions of dollars in the “aid” of that country rebuilding and send us Americans to rebuild what we just destroyed. Sorry to get off topic there it’s just that I’m tired of hearing about peoples rights being violated by our Government and law officials that it’s Glad to hear FINALLY that some companies are going to start standing up for Rights of the American People. I really hope this starts a new look at not the consumer but the American Citizens Rights in regard to their personal.privacy and security in the technology world.

  • Im so glad that Apple & Google are stepping up their security. I just don’t think it’s right for the Government or Federal Agency or anybody for that matter to be able to basically act like this is some Communist country and spy on people. Cause the Government and law agencies use anything and everything as a “legal ” reason to get a warrant to gain access to their personal property. Now I understand if they have rock hard evidence against someone who’s a risk to society like sex offenders who need and should be being watched when released from prison. For the rest of their lives as far as I’m concerned cause more than half don’t register like their supposed to any way. Those are the individuals the FBI and Government should be spying on. Not just any random person they want to violate. Our Government is getting to be more answer more like Nazi Germany when Hitler was in action with the way they treat citizens and their rights. Cause if you really sit down and think about it you can really start to see why other countries hate us Americans. It’s not because of our so called Freedom it’s because our Government is so use to violating our rights that our Government basically bullies other countries to get what they want. Think about it. We’re the only country whose in debt that will bomb other countries then turn right around and give that country Billions of dollars in the “aid” of that country rebuilding and send us Americans to rebuild what we just destroyed. Sorry to get off topic there it’s just that I’m tired of hearing about peoples rights being violated by our Government and law officials that it’s Glad to hear FINALLY that some companies are going to start standing up for Rights of the American People. I really hope this starts a new look at not the consumer but the American Citizens Rights in regard to their personal.privacy and security in the technology world.