Jeff Kagan: Apple, FBI Privacy Debate Alive for Years

Jeff Kagan  |

The Apple vs. FBI debate may go on for years. The reason I say this is that it has already been going on for years. If we pull the camera back, we see this is the same argument we’ve already been having for decades about loss of privacy. Today we are focused on this particular case, but the larger debate continues.

I think every one of us can see value on both sides of the argument. On one hand we want to protect our privacy. After all, no one wants to be naked in the street. On the other hand, we want to nail the bad guys and protect ourselves from future attacks.

However, even though we can see and agree with both sides of the argument, a decision has to be made. Which way do we go? That’s the tough question...

Loss of Privacy

Loss of privacy is not new. It has been a growing problem for the last few decades. Forty years ago, before the digital revolution, we had privacy. However, bit by bit, as technology moved into our lives, the loss of privacy has been getting worse and worse with every passing year.

Today, we actually have very little privacy. Most are surprised when I say this, but think about it: We are surrounded by cameras for security and traffic tracking our every movement. We use plastic instead of currency, which can track our movements and our finances. Our cars have navigation, which helps keep us from getting lost, but it also means there is a record of where we are at all times. Today, with email, the web, smartphones and so on, the loss of privacy has grown to even greater levels.

Yes, there are countless invasions of privacy we have dealt with over time. Every new technology has this darker side that we don’t really talk about or do anything about. We used to be out there and alone in the world. Today, every move we make is tracked by our smartphones. Yes, they know every step we take if they want to track us. By they, I mean the government, or corporations, or the bad guys.

New Apple iOS First Boost in Privacy in Decades

Recently, Apple has upgraded their iOS and given privacy the first boost in decades. This is good news. However, this new privacy is keeping the FBI from learning more about the recent terrorist attackers. So there is a price to be paid for privacy. This was always the case. However, now that we have the technology, we must decide the best ways to use it.

The problem is smartphones like the Apple (AAPL) iPhone, Google (GOOG) Android and Samsung Galaxy are a treasure trove of personal and private information. Giving the FBI access to this information of course seems like the right thing to do. That is, until you consider what will happen next.

What Happens Next?

Next, step-by-step, the little bit of privacy we still have will be yanked away. We will be left exposed and naked to the world. No secrets. Is that the world we really want to live in?

This Apple vs. FBI debate is just one step. And this is an honorable step. However, there will be other steps, and other cases. And the slippery slope will come into play. Then, after a period of time, we may regret this path we are on. However, we won’t be able to stop it. And that’s the problem.

Foreign governments will jump in as well. They will demand a back-door to keep an eye on their citizens. After all, this has already been done. Then, companies that want to continue to sell devices in those countries will have to agree, or else they will lose market share.

Can’t Eliminate Back Door Once Created

Even if Apple, or any other company creates a back-door, who’s to say they can protect it from getting out into the world? We know by looking back at history that every secret escapes. After all, people are people.

If Apple could build a back-door for this phone, then destroy the back door so it can never be used again, that may satisfy any critic. If that was possible, I think the opponents would fade.

However, Apple knows that can’t be done. We cannot assure the world that once the back-door is built, it will be destroyed before the secret get’s out to the world.

The Catch Faced by Apple and FBI

And that’s the catch. The push and pull. The Yin and Yang. We want to do the right thing. We want to nail the bad guys, but we also want to protect our privacy. Is there an answer? There must be.

However, we have not yet heard an answer that satisfies both sides. And that’s the problem. This is one of the toughest questions we have ever faced.

Do you have any suggestions? columnist Jeff Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst and consultant. He shares thoughts on the changing industry, which he's been following for 25 years. He follows what's hot, what's not, why and what's coming next. Email him

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:

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