Why Apple’s fight for digital encryption security matters

The technology world and the federal government are once again locking horns over the battle between security versus safety. The government, believing it is necessary for security, is attempting to force Apple to create a backdoor into its products. Apple is resisting this pressure, with CEO Tim Cook warning of the longterm effects of creating the backdoor.

In short, the security of your smart devices is at stake. Because of this, the backdoor cannot be created and encryption is absolutely important.

While many may see this at its face as a simple issue, it runs much deeper. This is not as simple as giving the FBI the information they need, as there are greater implications at hand.

In a letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook opens with a note of significant regarding smartphones in our lives and why encryption matters:

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

Smartphones literally have become a major part of people’s lives. On your smartphone, you can check your bank account, access personal records, store personal pictures, and have private conversations. There is a lot being stored, but what happens if it becomes compromised?

This is why encryption of the device matters. Hacking and digital theft have become a rising issue in society and it is necessary for companies like Apple to continuously adapt to these changes. For this reason, regular system updates and security updates come out in order to patch discovered issues and address new threats.

This is why Apple users trust iOS to store their personal information and records.

But what if Apple compromises that trust?

Cook makes note

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

This is true. When you consider what is kept on your phone, it literally is like having a key to someone’s home, as well as a bank and other places. If a backdoor existed into your phone, how easy would it be for hackers who are extremely skilled with computers to exploit it?

What if you had a backdoor on your home that wasn’t locked with a key, but rather a code? Even if law enforcement were the only ones with the code, how difficult would it be with someone who knows how to break locks or otherwise navigate the system to enter your home?

This is an potential door to predators to your children, thieves to your personal belongings, serial killers, and all sorts of criminals who are going to exploit system flaws for their own personal gain.

Think about it.

This has prompted competitors to even stand with Apple, as the head of Google issued his support of Apple in this battle.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai correctly notes there is a difference between providing information in compliance with valid legal orders, and hacking into user’s devices. What the FBI is asking of Apple is not the former, but the latter.

NBC News makes note of the encryption level on Apple devices, further affirming Pichai’s defense and Cook’s point:

Not even Apple can decrypt an encrypted iPhone, according to the company. One of the major security advantages of Apple’s encryption is that the key needed to unlock the protected data is fused into the phone — and only on the phone, meaning not even Apple knows what it is.

Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, further weighed in:

Encryption is key to a healthy Internet. It’s the encoding of data so that only people with a special key can unlock it, such as the sender and the intended receiver of a message. Internet users depend on encryption everyday, often without realizing it, and it enables amazing things. It safeguards our emails and search queries, and medical data. It allows us to safely shop and bank online. And it protects journalists and their sources, human rights activists and whistleblowers.

Encryption isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.

Mozilla is known for the Firefox web browser, as well as the Thunderbird e-mail client. Given these points, they are also in a position to know about the importance of web security and the necessity of encryption.

When your entire life is being secured on a smartphone now, security is important.

Maybe the FBI is acting with good intentions here, and they probably are. We live in dangerous times as terrorists seek to harm our country with acts of terrorism against innocent people. But we need to be careful not to open one threat in attempting to patch another, because then we’re only hurting ourselves as a nation.

As a society, we need to set our emotions aside and view this issue from a logical perspective. Apple is taking the right stand and is leading companies like Google and Mozilla to stand with them. Why? Because the technology community, who deals with hacking, fraud, and digital theft everyday, knows the importance of encryption to our everyday lives in a digital world.

Thank you, Tim Cook and Apple for taking the correct stand. It’s time everyone stands with Apple for the future of digital privacy and security.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer and managing editor for The Liberty Conservative. In addition to his political writing, he also covers baseball for Cleat Geeks and enjoys writing on a number of other topics ranging on Medium.