New Standard for All Tech Downsizations
Finally – the day has come when Apple has given its users ultimate encryption power with its new end-to-end encryption feature that shields data stored on iCloud from cyber criminals and law enforcement. With this feature, whatever a user saves on their iCloud can only be accessed via their device, making it truly for their eyes only. Unsurprisingly, this has the FBI in an ‘irked’ state, while privacy Advocates are thrilled. This new encryption feature comes with its own personal responsibility and complications, requiring users to set things up in order to make sure it works properly. Previously, Apple already had a high level of security with data such as passwords and Health Data, with these stored exclusively on a device such as an iPhone, not accessible by Apple. With the new Advanced Data Protection, however, iCloud backups, notes, and photos are also included. That means that Apple will no longer have control of the encryption keys, rendering them unable to access user data – no matter if they lost their password and don’t have access to their account. To combat this, users can put measures in place, such as assigning someone as a recovery contact or printing out a very long recovery key and save it somewhere secure.
Encryption as a Human Rights Tool
The added layer of privacy not only means that Apple is no longer compliant with requests for data from law enforcement, it also gives the company a competitive edge over other tech companies by setting a new standard. In 2015, Apple faced a difficult challenge when the FBI asked them to crack the iPhone 5c belonging to a terrorist who had killed 14 people. The company pushed back – making a case that honoring the FBI request would open up iPhones to other bad actors due to a back door being created. This moment has since been a pivotal in Apple’s pitch of being the most secure in technology. For example, their billboard at 2019’s Consumer Electronics Show read: “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone” – a phrase now made even truer with the extra protection on iCloud backups. Not only this, but Apple’s extra secure feature actually improves human rights. According to the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, this feature is “essential and overdue”. Due to Apple not profiting from data, they can focus on protecting customer information and promoting better security measures.
Apple’s Responsibility and Legal Loopholes
In an uncanny turn of events, Apple’s new security feature is exactly the opposite of what the FBI is pushing for. The agency is calling on Apple to provide ‘lawful access by design’, otherwise known as a backdoor key. Meanwhile, Privacy Advocacy groups are celebrating the move and it’s implications. The extra encryption on iCloud could lead to other tech companies altering their security policies to compete, granted that users know how to opt in and make use of the feature. Yet, one unexpected side effect of this could be that Apple doesn’t have to deal with as many requests for information due to the difficultly of accessing data, should users opt-in. Take the example of the iCloud backing up Paul Manafort’s WhatsApp messages. Despite there being an extra layer of security, law enforcement still had access because of the security loophole of the app that allowed the messages to be backed up.
Apple’s introduction of an end-to-end encryption feature has not only been celebrated by privacy advocates, but has the potential to change the security norms across all tech companies. Whilst this could potentially complicate the ability of law enforcement to access data, it also offers citizens more protection and creates a more secure environment. Whilst this feature is opt-in and is not compulsory, it is an example of how Apple is striving to remain the most secure provider and demonstrate the importance of data protection.