Cyber security does not mean privacy infringement

Apple recently put out a statement regarding a request from the FBI to unlock a phone found at the San Bernardino shooting, an action which they denied.

This topic comes at an appropriate time, especially with a leaked presentation from the NSA’s SKYNET program, which shows evidence as to why excessive cyber security can lead to serious implications.

A few days ago, computer and software company Apple put out a statement regarding an FBI request to make a new version of iOS that can be bypassed by government agencies; in this context, specifically for an iPhone recovered at the site of the tragic San Bernardino shooting last December. Apple denied the request.

I commend Apple for this decision, even if it may be a half-hearted PR stunt, because it shows that they care about the security and privacy of data, two factors that could be considered rare nowadays. Additionally, it shows that even a large company such as Apple is capable of creating a case for why unnecessary surveillance is a serious threat to the freedom of a country, that frequently claims it is “free.”

Apple’s stance becomes much more commendable when considered in context of recent events, such as a report from Ars Technica UK discussing a government program called SKYNET, which was created by the NSA. It looks for terroristlike activity in Pakistan, using data gathered from devices like smartphones and tablets to look at evidence such as social media posts and travel behavior. Then it pieces together daily routines (who travels together, stays with friends, etc.).

This program has already targeted Al Jazeera journalist Ahmad Zaidan as a terrorist, with a slide in a leaked presentation taking measures to claim him as a member of Al Qaeda. In the past, he interviewed Bin Laden twice, and actively reports on violence in the area.

If the NSA can already do this in neighboring countries with reckless abandon, I have no reason to believe that it can’t happen here on American soil. What stops the American government from claiming that all of the data collected from American citizens can be used for their security?

The government cries terrorists too often for going down back alleys and being taken after standing near the site of a terrorist attack. This is important because we are all aware of the sensitive data stored on our devices, and how much of our daily activity is actually monitored.

There are many things that can go wrong with a computer algorithm, especially with the barriers that technology currently has. The level of trust government agencies have in machines is worrying, especially given the current trend seen in the two incidents.

Think about how many photos you keep on your phone, or how many security cameras you walk by in public. Surveillance and security are still very important, and you can’t always rely on people to have others’ best intentions in mind. Surveillance cameras have put many criminals behind bars due to police being able to use the footage, and there will always be a need to find out what really occurred in a case such as this.

But unsolicited surveillance is an infringement of privacy, and that’s essentially what’s happening here. George Orwell’s “1984” hits a little close to home right now. I don’t think it’ll be too far off if people don’t stand up for their privacy and security.