In the debate over whether Apple should build software to allow the FBI to break into iPhones, the focus is often too much on privacy. Privacy is important, of course, and the debate we are having now is good. But this is really more about security than privacy.
What’s the difference? When a law enforcement agency gets a court order to get to the data on your phone, or online account, or from a notebook in your desk in your home, that’s a privacy concern. Lump that together with other privacy issues like what data your credit card company has about your purchases, or what data the stores have about you. Privacy is basically others having information about you.
Security is also about that. But it is mostly about illegal activity — someone breaks into your phone, or online account, or your home. Everyone thinks security is good. But people disagree whether privacy is good, especially when it comes to cases where law enforcement wants the data to prevent crimes or prosecute criminals.
However, privacy and security are tied together when it comes to backdoors. Whether it is a formalized passcode or key to get into a phone or account, or it is a complex operating system modification, the privacy concern turns to one of security. There’s no way to guarantee that the backdoor will only remain in the hands of the good guys. It is logically impossible to build a backdoor system that will only be used for good. Once the backdoor exists it can be leaked, stolen or even re-created from scratch.
Apple has in the past turned over information to the government when properly requested. Want to know more? Apple gives you statistics here. The Electronic Frontier Foundation independently reports on Apple and others here.
At the same time, Apple is making its devices and its online services more secure. That means it will be harder for the bad guys to get to our data. It will also be harder for Apple itself to get to our data, should a court order it. Look at the current state of things here.
So it comes down to this: the more security Apple builds into the iPhone and iCloud, the less data the government will be able to get from Apple in investigations and court cases. Are we willing to sacrifice our security for that? Whether you agree or disagree, it is an exciting time for debate on privacy and security.