Governments are increasingly getting impatient with tech firms as the debate over data privacy rages. While authorities in the US still prefer to follow the long way of bureaucracy in an attempt to compel companies like Apple to hack into their customer’s phones, the Brazilian government has tackled things directly, as has been seen in the recent arrest of a top Facebook executive.
Diego Dzodan, a vice president at Facebook, was arrested on the first day of March for failure to comply with a court order that required him to submit the Whatsapp communications of a drug trafficking suspect. He spent 24-hours in jail before his arrest was overturned by an appeals court.
In the appeal submission, Facebook’s attorneys explained that the company could not intercept information channeled through Whatsapp, since it is all encrypted.
Facebook Had no Access to Decrypted Information
Encrypted data is not useful when intercepted because it has no meaning- unless someone finds a way to decrypt it. Until the data reaches its recipient, it is just a collection of letters, signs and numbers that are mixed up. Only the Whatsapp app in the specific recipient’s phone knows how to reconstruct the message it receives and make it readable.
The Brazil court that sentenced Diego Dzodan erred in its judgment because, under the country’s laws, you cannot force a person to produce information that they have no means to access.
Considering that forcing companies to produce data of suspects is impossible when such data is encrypted, many tech companies are opting for this option and are even making their encryptions stronger. Apple for instance is working on a soon-to-be-launched operating system, which the company says, cannot be hacked either by the government or by Apple itself.
Governments Might Ban Encryption in the Future
As encryption technology advances, experts who could earlier develop apps to parse weakly encrypted information are running out of options. Many governments, including the US, have apps that can crack certain levels of encryption, but find it impossible to hack into strongly secured data systems.
Soon however, it might reach a point where governments might start placing limits on encryption. The jailing of Dzodan, even if it was only for a couple of hours, is a brief exposure to where the privacy battle is headed.
With the inability to have what they want, the governments might start preventing firms from implementing certain encryption systems. Apple’s future operating system that threatens to keep data entirely out of reach is in itself a big threat to authorities, as it would give them a harder time in solving crimes involving such gadgets.
Currently, Apple has at least two ongoing court cases in which the company is striving to have the directives from the federal government to have the company hack into iPhones withdrawn.
Authorities want the tech giant to create a mimic operating system that would allow unlimited password attempts on a gadget until the right digit combination is found.
In its defense, Apple claims that such a measure would expose millions of users to cybercrime, apart from setting bad precedents that the government might take advantage of in the future. The company has vowed not to let the administration interfere with its user’s privacy until it runs out of all legal options.
McAfee Volunteers to Hack into Terrorist’s Iphone
In a bid to avoid the “illegal” hacking by the governments, John McAfee, the developer of McAfee anti-virus, has offered to hack into the iPhone 5c tied to the San Bernardino terrorism case. This, he says, will prevent the government from taking action that might expose everyone else to cybercriminals.
McAfee asserts that the FBI has incompetent staff, and that is why they have failed to find ways to crack the iPhones in question using more acceptable methods. If given the go ahead, he promises to mobilize his team of creative software engineers and deliver results within three weeks. To the public, whose support for data privacy allegedly has fallen recently, he reiterates the same warning expressed by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.
It is not yet clear whether or not the government has accepted McAfee’s offer, which he made in February. In the meantime, let’s sit back and watch as the global encryption war takes shape.