Ever since Edward Snowden revealed to the public the full extent of the US government’s surveillance in 2013 encryption has been on most peoples’ minds. Some have accepted that the government is probably listening to everything we’re saying and evaluating it for threat, and others have tried furiously to encrypt their communications to keep them as private as possible. One noted cryptographer, John Callas, has been working towards that goal ever since the 1990’s when he worked at Apple, helping to develop encryption systems that kept files safe on Macintosh Computers.
Apple, as a company, has been at the forefront of the encryption discussion ever since it was discovered that one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks had an iPhone 5 that needed to be unlocked, and the US government didn’t have the passcode. The FBI was hopint that there would be some helpful information in the device. The feds tried to force Apple to create the technology to unlock the phone using an archaic law, but Apple refused. Tim Cook released a public statement on Apple’s website which explained why the company was vehemently against this idea. “While the government may argue that its [the technology] use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.” It should be noted, however, that Apple does provide information in their possession to the FBI when it is requested, and they regularly do their best to comply with warrants and subpoenas.
Apple executives wanted to protect their customers, and knew that a backdoor is a backdoor. It can’t exactly be controlled and regulated to only let the “good guys” in. Once it exists, it exists. After months of contention, the government was able to get an outside firm to create this technology, and supposedly, after all of the hubbub, not much was ultimately revealed by getting into the phone. However, due to this public case, many consumers have taken their positions on encryption. Some people feel that having less secure communications is worth it, if it could prevent acts of terror and violence in the US, while others feel that privacy and security is of the utmost importance. After all, it’s not only communications that get stored on our smartphones but increasingly personal information like finances and personal business is included in the mix. With a backdoor, it could be easier for anyone to get at that information, not just the government.
While Apple was forced to make a very public position on the issue back in February when the issue about the San Bernardino shooter’s phone came up, few companies have come out as publically for or against mandated or prohibited encryption. In February, shortly after Apple released their public letter against creating a backdoor, Google did come out in support very quietly, with their CEO Sundar Pichai making a statement via Twitter saying that Tim Cook’s letter was “important” and that creating a backdoor to an iPhone could set a “troubling precedent.” “Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy.” He tweeted, in agreement with Cook, but he took a softer stance, stating that he is “looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue.”
Microsoft, another tech giant, also supported Apple in their decision to go against the government, but did so quietly as well. Company President Brad Smith said that using old laws to govern new technology just doesn’t work, stating that “We need 21st-century laws to address 21st-century technology issues.” However, both these company’s statements were practically a whisper in the large field of news compared to Apple’s booming statement which could not be ignored or distorted.
Many technologists, tech enthusiasts and tech companies straddle the line of cooperating with the government and encrypting their technologies. As previously mentioned, Apple does cooperate with law enforcement agencies when possible, a sentiment echoed by Google’s CEO. “We give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders,” he tweeted. Some security professionals, like John Callas, also take what could be considered a more moderate view. They believe that it is wrong for the government to force companies to create backdoors into their devices, but they don’t believe it is wrong for governments to take advantage of existing flaws in technologies that allow them to be hacked, but only if they notify the companies of these problems so they can be fixed, once the government has gotten what they need.
It is people like this who find success in the industry, because they can navigate the complex intricacies of privacy and encryption. With a firm and loud stance in place, Apple may be upping the ante, as they’ve just re-added John Callas, back to their team. In his time away from Apple he has created Silent Circle, a firm that provides different types of encrypted communication support, in addition to having created the Blackphone, a safe and encrypted smartphone that runs it’s own secure Silent OS which is a modified version of the Android OS that has more encryption.
While it’s not clear what Mr. Callas’ new role will be at Apple, one can assume that it will have something to do with security and encryption, showing that consumers are more aware of the need for secure technologies, and they actually want them. Apple has insinuated that it wants to increase the security and encryption available on their consumer products, and John Callas seems like the right guy for the job. It will be exciting to see what new levels of security come out of his new collaborations with the company.
Dayva Segal is a new media marketing professional and tech industry journalist who has been working in the field for nearly a decade, with vast experience managing content for major brands in a wide variety of industries. As an experienced SEO & SEM content creator and data driven strategist, Ms. Segal has improved the public social media presence and private affiliate marketing programs of several brands. Dayva presently serves as a consultant for companies including WebsiteSecure.org, MarketingParadox.com, GrowThisFast.com and several others.
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