An Apple a day

by | Apr 19, 2016

For those of you that keep abreast of current affairs and news, you’ll be aware that over the last year there have been two separate rulings in the United States in favour of Apple.

If you don’t know what’s been going on, then a quick précis of the situation. Government approaches Apple with devices and request they unlock them; they believe said devices contain information vital to high level criminal cases involving the owners of devices. Apple said no. Government said yes. Apple said let someone else decide. Apple and Government meet in front of the someone else aka A Judge. The two judges, independent of each other said no.

Whatever you may think of Apple, this is not really about them, it’s about an individual’s right to data privacy. I’ve spent a lot of time mulling this one over. Where do we draw the line between data that is personal and not personal, data that could be legally incriminating and data that isn’t, data that could be threatening national security and data that could be used to damage or impede a business or an individual?

I appreciate that these are issues that don’t affect us all the time, but as we run headlong into this era of human evolution, where data is everything, these are the issues that we need to consider.

Earlier today I spied (as I was passing through) the news story in Time of Leonardo Fabretti (http://time.com/4279454/father-asks-apple-to-unlock-his-dead-sons-phone/) and his direct request to Apple to unlock his adopted son’s phone so that he could retrieve photos. In an excerpt from the letter he has stated “Although I share your philosophy in general, I think Apple should offer solutions for exceptional cases like mine.” Why is his case exceptional? Why is his need more important than that of a Government agency who believe the Apple device holds the key to bringing down an international drug trafficking ring and all its associated misery? How do we know that the photos are only innocuous family snaps and not something more sinister, because those more cynical would say “Why did a 13 year old boy have a passkey on his internet enabled phone that his parents didn’t know, what with them being responsible 21st century parents aware of the dangers of the internet?”.

What I’m not doing is casting aspersions on Mr Fabretti or on his young son, what I am trying to do is to illustrate why this is such a difficult area to control and why we’re struggling to find a way of drawing a line of distinction and being able to legally define it. Today it’s Mr Fabretti, tomorrow it’s a deluge of other requests all couched in similar emotional language, some genuine, some not so much. And the one thing I am sure of, it’s not Apple’s or Samsung’s or LG’s or HTC’s role to play God and decide who gets the information and who doesn’t – it’s an all or nothing gig, this one.

But let’s take this a stage further; if at some point it’s agreed that devices can be unlocked, why not other data? Imagine a world where I get approached by a utility company to track down someone who hasn’t paid their bill and I have their latest address and mobile phone number. Do I pass this information on? Whilst the big credit agencies do collect data – legally – and make it available, this is something very different. This would be direct solicitation of information that wasn’t in the public domain. One of the downsides of face-to-face (street) fundraising is the number of individuals recruited that fall into more transient households: students, young house shares etc.; just the sort of people that tend to fall off the radar on a regular basis.

I’m not the person to make judgements on any of this, but it’s something that everyone is going to have to consider. And by everyone I don’t mean governments and law agencies I mean everyone – us, the general public; the people these decisions affect.

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