receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure


Information Wars: Privacy vs. National Security

Greg Layton
Greg Layton

The Impact of Apple vs. the FBI to You and Your Business

“It is ... particularly true of constitutional government that its atmosphere is opinion .... It does not remain fixed in any unchanging form, but grows with the growth and is altered with the change of the nation's needs…” - Woodrow Wilson

In George Orwell’s "1984," perpetual war, government surveillance, manipulation, propaganda and “socialism” are characteristic of a dystopia where individualism and free thinking are persecuted. 

Sounds like a wrap-up of yesterday’s news feed.

A world where information is used for sinister ends, whether government over reach or criminal activity, is a place we just don’t want to be, so much so, our level of paranoia far exceeds the actual threat.

Apple Corporation has been at the forefront of the personal data protection game in a recent controversy with the FBI over unlocking a known and very dead terrorist’s iPhone.

Related Article: The Security Risks in Social Media: Interview with Joseph Steinberg

Facebook, as well, has been the target of many government requests for data in regard to criminal activity such as school shootings, where perpetrators had known discourse on social media.

So, why do these tech giants conjure up violations of the Fourth Amendment just as requests for data from government officials is on the rise and terrorist threats, both domestic and abroad, are more prevalent than any time in history?

There is a balance between ceremonious privacy concerns and real threats to our National security.

“Decisions about who can access key evidence in criminal investigations should be made by courts and legislatures, not by Apple and Google.” - Cyrus Vance

Why It Matters That Apple and Facebook Are Refusing/Resisting to Share

While privacy is a great concern to just about everyone, it is baffling why there was so much consternation over breaking into Farook’s iPhone (in whatever way) to give the FBI forensic data to solve this crime and potentially warding off additional terrorist attacks.

Wherever we land on this argument it has huge downstream impacts on your privacy horizon and, more importantly your business obligations.

Interpretations of Constitutional Law

“The American constitution is a document designed by geniuses to be eventually interpreted by idiots.” - Joseph Ellis quoting others

Our founding fathers didn’t really provide many details in our Bill of Rights and left a lot to interpretation, rightly so as times change, case in point.

As a matter of fact, no rights are actually defined in the Constitution, they are only assumed and not to be “violated”, “denied” or “disparaged”.

In some case adjectives such as “unreasonable” or “unusual” leave vast areas of white space for generational interpretation.

In this case,  Apple is claiming violation of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) and, believe it or not, the First Amendment (freedom of speech).

Is computer code a language to be protected by the First Amendment? Since Farook is dead, to whom does the FBI deliver a search warrant?

Clearly Apple wasn’t complicit in these attacks. Does Farook have rights anyway, he’s dead?

We take the right to vote (not even mentioned in the Bill of Rights) from convicted felons; if Farook is guilty, but not convicted, should he have any rights?

It’s a Catch-22, you cannot convict a dead man. Different interpretations of these laws may leave you on the wrong side.

Mandates for Your Business

Since the FBI cracked the code on their own this case is moot, but the ramification of any findings for either side would have had a huge impact.

Finding for the FBI could expand regulatory mandates to many businesses, particularly tech.

Today, financial institutions incur huge costs to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and Patriot ACT requirements in regard to money laundering, this type of oversite could extend to just about any business creating huge overhead costs.

Were the courts to side with Apple, a different batch of problems arise; threats to national security, a wild west of litigation that smaller businesses couldn’t afford to bring or defend and undefined privacy compliance.

Finally, who is watching Apple and Facebook?

Customer Expectations

Raising the bar on customer expectations around data privacy could have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Privacy concern is a marketing tool that Apple is showcasing to attract more business and trust.

If consumers fall for such tactics, and many will, at least the terrorists, the bar is raised for products you supply, specifically in the digital arena.

In this case the plan backfired, and rather than an army of faithful iPhone users parading their secure devices, the FBI hacked the phone leaving a confused and defeated “Apple-ite”.

Related Article: Internet of Things: Security, Compliance, Risks and Opportunities

Your Privacy (You Don’t Have to Be Completely Vulnerable)

Social media, particularly Facebook, is a great place to share your life with friends and loved ones.

It’s also a perfect way to show potential employers how unemployable you are, insurers how uninsurable you are and fraudsters how vulnerable you are.

And, in light of the Constitutional landscape you don’t know how your data will be accessed in the future, so think about things you can control;

Don’t Share Too Much

“…look at me in Waikiki” (we are not home for an extended period of time).

Use Privacy Controls

Make sure your data is accessible by only those you want to see it, short of a subpoena.

Think Before You Type

Don’t say stupid things that could be misinterpreted as or are criminal in nature, may impact your career or offend someone that has influence on your life.

Block Apps and Sites From Snooping

You may allow a bad actor into your life.

Use Strong Passwords

This applies to iPhones as well. Someone getting a hold of your account can cause a lot of pain; not just fraud and identity theft, but defamation of your character or accusations of libel.

Obviously, this won't help with iPhone.

Knowledge Is Power

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”, or in our post-modern world, “information is power”.

When we think about information, specifically personal information, the lines are very blurred as to the value of this data when released to the wrong hands or purpose.

How dangerous is this information, how useful is it for the greater good?

The San Bernardino attacks opened up a Pandora’s box of questions regarding our privacy rights as citizens, non-citizens and, apparently, terrorists.

Apple took the opportunity to use this as a marketing stunt, as it could have been easily negotiated to get at data needed for the sake of National security, as if Apple doesn’t have a backdoor anyway.

Related Article: Data Breaches Hurt 43% of Businesses in 2014: Do You Have a Cyber Security Plan?

We may never know. Facebook has reluctantly provided data regarding criminal activity, and continues to push back essentially governing what they feel should or should not be provided.

This is scary unto itself in that you have tech giants controlling privacy policy.

There is a balance, where common sense is leveraged, somewhere between Orwell’s Big Brother and the Profiteering Tech Giants.


Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Greg Layton
Greg Layton Member
Greg Layton lives in Virginia where he works for a top 5 financial institution. He has extensive background in software engineering that has concentrated on the building of secure distributed systems for a variety of internet companies. Greg is also a freelance writer covering technology concerns for various blogs, news sites, trade organizations and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional.