Security vs. Privacy: Telecoms & Apple

The first time I had thought about security and privacy beyond skimming the paranoid rustlings of people on internet forums was when a team and I won an AT&T case competition with the issue of using Big Data pitching an idea similar to something that the company actually rolled out within months of the end of the competition. Link to the Prezi we presented, names removed.

We were pretty proud of ourselves, generally ignoring our fellow peers when they made the case that the bulk of our idea was nothing less than an illusory tactic. The ones that tried to come up with cloud solutions and more technical advancements were especially miffed that what won that competition was essentially a huge marketing campaign, though as a marketing major, all I can really say about that is “well, they bought it.”

AT&T’s number one customer is the US government and for those of you who don’t know what that means, while I don’t know all the details, essentially: the government pays good money to monitor your communication and access to the devices that use AT&T service in the name of homeland security. The government gets to do this kind of whenever they want, and AT&T helps by creating new tech that makes surveillance easier for everyone. And if you didn’t know about GNOC, which my fellow competitors and our team visited as a prize, that’s what GNOC is for. Oh, and by the way, essentially all telecoms globally do this.

The current Apple debacle can be summed up as a company is pushing back at the government for something that the government gets fairly easy access to otherwise, something that was written into legality and that the majority of Americans just sort of accepted as it didn’t seem to impact us personally. Federal government generally gets its way when they claim national security (though there are definitely exceptions), and Apple was, and is, standing in the way of that goal. Seven weeks of missing information that could shine light on the San Bernandino attacks, and prepare everyone if links to terrorist groups are discovered. Seven weeks of information is arguably very, very important to the workings of a crime. The FBI had actually been hounding Apple to create the code needed to de-encrypt for years, and it’s only news now because of the legal injunction against them. The government clearly only calls the courts when they think they can win, and with the sympathy of the 14 dead victims’ families on their side, racism against Muslims on a shaky, raised plateau, and several (though not all) signs of an ISIS-style attack quickly served, they’re not wrong. In fact, I doubt the decisions on their end expected the push back they already received from other huge tech companies and individuals alike. (This type of rift by the way, is the type of thing that terrorism aspires to create.) The new statement from FBI Director James Comey is also going to get some shots fired from either side, as it suggests that Tim Cook was hyperbolizing, and there’s a clear split in reality from their stories.

Unless us lay people stop being so complacent and are involved and stay involved however, Apple might win the battle and privacy will still lose the war.

(I also urge you not to come down on the families of the victims; not only are they obviously being used as pawns in this situation, you can’t demand them sacrifice their grief in the name of a broader ideology that they probably aren’t ready or equipped to think about.)

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