Will our online privacy be broken forever?

Recent events both in Norway and the US have caused a world wide media storm. On the surface it would seem these two cases are normal criminal proceedings, yet if one looks below the surface and reflects upon the deeper implications of this matter, it becomes quite obvious what is happening now, and why it will have earth shattering consequences for each and one of us. It would also be very naive to think these are some isolated and local issues which concern only the US and Norway when the truth of the matter is this will have impact on the global online community, no matter the launguage nor location. Let’s take a look at what these cases entail and why the future of our and our children’s online privacy is at stake.

Two tiny cases which might rule  our future

A United States judge ordered recently for Apple to comply with an FBI’s request of unlocking the iPhone of a convicted gunman from San Bernardino in California. Simultaneously a similar case popped up in Norway where the local police in Nordhordland in the northern Norway, demanded from a 27-year-old man accused of drug possession to unlock his mobile phone via his fingerprint. The man was caught with over 520 grams of cocain and the police believe the confiscated smartphone might contain evidence about where he obtained the illegal substance. In both cases, the charged criminals have refused to comply with the law authorites and to unlock their private iPhones, which can only be done by the use of their fingeprints.

In the american case, the FBI quickly issued a demand directly to Apple to supply them with software which would allow infinite attempts at decrypting the iPhone’s lock. This was to be done in order to gain access to every piece of data on the phone.Or in Cook’s words, this is how he describes the Feds request:

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer. – Tim Cook, Apple CEO

In the much less publicized norwegian case, the norwegian authorites have ordered the use of invididual’s fingerprint to open up his mobile. Although this immedatietly presents a problem since after 48 hours of disuse, the fingerprint lock requires an additional 4-digit code. In the same way as the american case.


The future, if Apple gives in.

In both cases, the american and norwegian authorites are forced into unlocking the iPhone by the use of the 4-digit code.

Yet, Apple has buit in many security measures in order to prevent the hacking of this unlock code. At its simplest, after several attempts the time when anither attemot can be made, gets proportinally longer. So a systematic code breaker in this case, would make way too much time.  On top of this there are several other securoty measures which erase the data from the phone after way too many attempts.

So in order to access the offender’s data, the american FBI has ordered Apple to build a special OS just for cases like these. A version which contains a backdoor for the legal authorities. Apple claims there are no guarantees that this custom code will not be used for other cases and that making it would threaten user privacy and set a dangerous precedent for future legal cases. Cook says that the government is effectively asking Apple to hack its own devices and ‘undermine decades of security enhancements that protect our customers’. Or exactly in his words:

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. – Tim Cook, Apple CEO

And this is exactly the core of the matter. Apple has built their know how and brand on the market by being at the forefront of the security. With their MacOsX which has the most elegant enctryption tools for your data, they have made these tools ubiquitous as awell as accessible for the every man. And now they are bing asked to give over the privasy of any of its users, if the US government wishes so. It would also be very naive to think this is a local american issue, Such a backdoor would threaten every iphone on the planet and would allow not only the US government but other governments to acces your most private data.

But the more uneasy truth is that, if the US geverment IT sepcialists would be able to decrypt at will, and access any iPhone, then so would private people who have the necessary know how, including Black hat hackers.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control. – Tim Cook, Apple CEO

The battle against the powers that be.

And as Apple has squared off against the US government, and declared it’s intention to oppose the court order from the US federal jugde, others governrment, memebers of media, and tech company CEOs have voiced their opinions.

Although Google has been way more lenient with their privacy politics, due to their heavy dependancy on advertising revenue and actions which cause them to gather as much personal data as possible,  Google’s CEO, Sundar Pchai, still sided with Apple’s and supported them with his Twitter messages saying the FBI’s request to enable a backdoor “could compromise users’ privacy.”

One of the strongest remarks was made by the WhatsApp CEO and founder Jan Koum who wrote in support of Apple . “We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set,” he penned. “Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake”

In a tweet shared this afternoon, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey thanked Tim Cook for his leadership and said the company stands with Apple. In the tweet, Dorsey also links to Cook’s strongly worded open letter that calls the FBI’s software request “too dangerous to create.”


Facebook came late to the table but finally voiced its support for Apple by the following statement:

“We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services. We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe,” the statement reads. “When we receive lawful requests from these authorities we comply. However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.”

Only our liberty at stake

And this is the heart of the matter. No matter what outcome and what kind of politics migth surface in this matter, we are one step closer to the prevailing an ubiquitous surveillance society. On the one hand, the Internet has gathered human kind into one small digital village by the camp fire, but on the hand, it is taking away one of the most precious things a human being has a right to, it’s own freedom of being, of privacy, and maybe most importantly his right to freedom og speech.

Will the coming generations look back at us with a strange sense of wonder, how we desperately wanted to keep our private lives intact? Or will they think that, our model of existence, was an outdated mirage which could never function in the all pervading, no privacy land of the internet?

It’s difficult to predict, but I am certain of one thing and it is that in the course of the last ten years, our world has been turned upside down due to the head spinning technology advances. A process which is only accelerating. And with it we are rushed into making, sometimes foolhardy decisions, which will greatly impact our freedom in the future. Decisions which need time, distance and a distinct maturation process. Hopefully this time, these decisions will have the time to mature into responsibles changes which won’t impact the individual’s liberty.