In 2013, ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden made shockwaves in the digital security landscape when he exposed rights-violating government surveillance operations that secretly collect massive quantities of personal data of American citizens. Snowden’s leaks inspired leading technology companies to take a stand in protecting their customers’ data from the prying eyes of government surveillance agencies.
Companies offering data storage services initially reacted by creating new policies that reveal to the public how the government collects and uses their data, and by publishing information about government requests for customer data, such as how many requests are submitted and how many are complied with. Although these data storage companies are raising awareness about government intrusions, they are doing little to actually prevent them.
That is, until now.
Historically, Apple has built into its handsets a “back door” that allows it to unlock password-protected devices, and has used the feature to comply with government information requests. For its newest phone, the iPhone 6, Apple changed its tack: If agencies such as the NSA or FBI want to access information on an iPhone 6, they must either get the password from the owner or break the encryption themselves (good luck on that latter count, bureaucrats). In effect, Apple slammed the back door shut and threw away the key.
Government agencies can still troll for data in many other places, including in Apple customers’ online properties; for instance, they can still unscramble information stored in iCloud without the owner’s password. But, thanks to the great minds at Apple, owners of the new iPhone are safer from intrusion, and to that extent, freer.
Hopefully this development by Apple will set a trend, and more back doors will be slammed shut soon.