The latest drama in the encryption debate now directly pits Apple against the U.K. government. A drafted bill entitled the Investigatory Powers Bill calls for an overhaul in the methods through which the government is able to obtain communications data. It would give law enforcement broader powers to intercept communication and collect data on users, but would also require companies like Apple to provide access to their device’s communications, which are currently encrypted. This week, Apple responded with its usual backlash language — except this time the company is facing the growing sentiment that its encrypted technologies are enabling terrorists to communicate under the government’s radar.
Nonetheless, Apple insists that giving the U.K. government access to all of its customer communications would endanger the data of every user and would not be worth exposing the information of millions in order to pinpoint a few potentially dangerous ones. Bloomberg quotes Apple’s eight-page submission to the U.K. parliamentary committee considering the bill:
The creation of back doors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers. A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.
The company insists that countries known for malicious hacking — namely North Korea, China, and others — would now have unprecedented access to user data under the proposed law. This back-and-forth with the U.K. government underscores the extreme confusion surrounding how to proceed with public and private collaboration for better surveillance while protecting user privacy.
The terrorist attacks in Paris in November, and the attacks in San Bernardino, California shortly there after, have heavily muddied the waters of the privacy debate in general. European countries had been doubling down on protecting user privacy — or at the least discussing initiatives to do so — since the Snowden leaks in 2013. Now, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear that he wants Parliament-approved access to troves of user data — seemingly the opposite tactic of any government seeking to keep users safe from prying eyes.
There is little consensus on this subject anywhere. Indeed, the debate is also raging in the U.S. and has become a central point in the current presidential race. And both sides believe they are the ones calling for more protection. The jury is out on whether that means opening Apple’s back doors — or keeping them shut.