FRANCE-SECURITY: Phone security versus privacy will "never be resolved"


The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that an FBI demand for Apple to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone risks setting a dangerous precedent when it comes to privacy.

The FBI wants to unlock the iPhone used by Syed Farook who, along with his wife, was behind last December’s San Bernardino massacre that left 14 people dead.

But the UN’s Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says that the FBI’s order would “set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world”.

A number of start-up phone companies that deliberatly don’t offer backdoor entries began emerging following the news about global surveillance operations back in 2013.The Swedish-Hungarian startup, Arenim Technologies, operates an encryption service called CryptTalk that enables their clients to maintain their privacy.

The company’s CEO and co-founder, Sab Kun, said: “Once you implement a backdoor, that backdoor will be there for anybody; not just for security agencies. This is a security risk. We cannot build our systems this way.

Let’s say that only one from 10,000 people is a bad guy and the other 9,999 people are using technology for the right purposes. In the case of our company, we are protecting people from eavesdroppers, from the bad guys. This is a kind of struggle, one we will be seeing over the coming years, and I think the problem will never be resolved.”

A lobby of 32 tech giants filed two separate briefs on Thursday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where Apple is challenging a court order to comply with the FBI’s demands.

These include huge tech players such as Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Reddit. Although these parties are not directly involved in the case, they are permitted to file these briefs to offer unsolicited additional information to the court, in the hope of influencing the case’s outcome.

Apple says that the only way to unlock Farook’s phone would be to introduce a “weakened operating system,” which could potentially leak out and be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.

On Thursday, French parliamentary deputies voted in favour of penalising smartphone makers who fail to cooperate in terrorism inquiries. The move came in the form of an amendment to a penal reform bill. But given the French government’s reluctance to take on the big phone companies in this way, it remains to be seen whether the amendment can survive the lengthy parliamentary process ahead of the bill becoming law.

France was left traumatised by terrorist attacks last year, and this in part explains why the French deputies voted the amendment though. In the States, relatives of some of the victims of the San Bernardino attack are backing the FBI’s position.

Levant Altan, executive director of Victim Support Europe, said that while his organisation did not have an official position on the case, it was important that the voices of victims were heard in such situations. “It’s extremely important for victims to get information and understand what has happened to them, why it’s happened to them, and that needs to be taken into account,” he said.

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