Posted on February 18, 2016

The Privilege of Privacy


Our right to privacy is close to becoming a privilege.

Several factors are helping to make sure of it. With the help of social media, cell phones, data tracking, legislation and new technology development, we have all but completely lost our sense of privacy. Our information is used by everyone now, be it corporations like Google, who track what you search and do online to custom-make advertisements for you, or the government itself (more specifically the NSA), who monitors your activities to ensure you are not a threat to the country.

But yesterday, our right to privacy prevailed. According to a customer letter sent out by Apple, the FBI and the courts handling the San Bernardino terrorist attacks have ordered Apple to “build a backdoor to the iPhone.” Apple refused.

“Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation,” the letter reads. According to Apple, not only does this type of software not exist today, but if put into the wrong hands, it would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s possession. Apple denied the request, because despite an argument that it would only be used in certain cases, “there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Apple said they have been very forthcoming with data needed for the case. But for the FBI to order a backdoor be built for one of the most used cellphone brands in the world, Apple stated today that it was against their customers’ best interest. And they are right. Our privacy has been an entity dwindling by the day:

  • According the Economist, law enforcement now have access to technology known as “the StingRay,” which is “a surveillance device that operates by mimicking a cellular tower, forcing all nearby mobile phones to reveal their unique identifying codes.” Essentially, the technology allows the police to know where you are with the use of your cell phone. “Law-enforcement agencies rarely seek explicit court approval to employ cell-site simulators, and rarely admit to using them after the fact,” the article said.
  • Facebook and Google both use your information to place better advertising while you browse the web. Facebook even uses your phone activity to figure out what ads would be relevant to you. CEO’s from both companies have also commented that citizens’ desire for privacy has decreased, commenting on the amount of information we are comfortable with sharing online.
  • Despite the service Apple has done for its customers today, the Daily Beast has reported that Apple has unlocked phones for authorities “at least 70 times since 2008.” This is concerning for multiple reasons, but mostly because it appears Apple could be doing this more as a publicity stunt rather than for their customers.
  • NPR reported that several cities across the country are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on surveillance cameras to put on street corners, parks and sidewalks in order to watch their residents.
  • Viruses on computers are becoming a rampant problem. Panda Security estimates that 32% of computers around the world are infected with some type of malware or virus. There are viruses that can see everything you do on your computer, including entering credit card information and passwords. Some can even permanently damage and ruin your computer. Cleaning your computer regularly can help you avoid any compromises.
  • The government has been known to call on tech companies in order to learn about citizens. These companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Samsung, etc.) know a lot about their users. Be it through cell phones, or general usage (check out the Next Web to read more specifics). Not only this, but with the help of the Patriot Act of 2001 and the NSA, the government has various, albeit strange abilities, such as monitoring our text messages, track the location of a phone call, as well as several other things. Check out Slate to see the list of things we know the NSA can do.

Despite the growing mediums that we can be monitored, a majority of Americans are still not okay with it. According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of Americans disapprove with “the U.S. government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts.” And an even larger majority (74%) believe they should not have to sacrifice privacy for the sake of security.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to. Yet in the midst of fear after 9/11, the government passed the Patriot Act in order to allow more surveillance by the government in order to help assist in catching potential terrorists. In 2004, the Gallup Poll found that only 26% of Americans thought the Patriot Act restricted people’s civil liberties too much, while 43% believed it was just right. But 11 years later, a poll by the American Civil Liberties found that 60% of Americans believe the act should be revised “to limit government surveillance and protect Americans’ privacy.”

Privacy is a growing issue, and we are quickly running out of things we can do combat the loss of it. We need to show the government our disapproval and make it a bigger issue. Fighting against legislation that hinders our privacy is a start. And as inconvenient as it sounds, cutting back on social media may help as well.

We are entering a future similar to which George Orwell wrote of in 1984: a growing epidemic that we are being monitored at all times and everything we do is recorded for later use. The idea that the government is using our information for the sole purpose of tracking down terrorism is ridiculous (read into Edward Snowden, who defended Apple today.) We are reaching a pivotal point in our fight for privacy, and this fight between Apple and the FBI could be the tilting point. We can celebrate and take a breath that Apple was on the side of their customer today, despite their previous actions. Maybe other corporations will follow their lead. But the fight for privacy is in full swing, and we as citizens are losing.

Photo by: Jaida Brinkley

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