I tend to be cautious — perhaps overly cautious — when it comes to computer security and for this reason, I’m impressed with the Apple iPhone and iPad.
A secured device requires a password to unlock and after 10 unsuccessful attempts, all information is wiped from the device.
This auto-erase feature has come under fire in recent days.
Because of this feature, law enforcement officials in the United States are unable to gain access to the data on the iPhone used by Syed Farook, a shooter in the Dec. 2, 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The attack killed 14 people and left 22 seriously injured.
A court order, issued by the U.S. Justice Department, is ordering Apple to change its operating system and bypass or disable this feature.
Officials at Apple are fighting this demand, citing concerns for the privacy of those who use their devices.
Is Apple’s position unreasonable?
If I am doing nothing illegal, immoral or shameful, why should I care if others see what’s on my electronic devices?
If I insist on a high level of protection for my mobile devices, am I telling the families of the San Bernardino victims that I care more about the privacy of my selfies or text messages than about the lives of their loved ones?
The questions surrounding security are not quite that simple.
Many users also have health information, banking and credit card particulars or other sensitive information stored on their devices.
Once the security of this information has been compromised, it may be difficult to undo the damage. Identity theft is a serious problem.
Supporters of the U.S. government’s demands will point out that the court order would not force Apple to remove all security measures from its devices.
Rather, the changes would give law enforcement officials a way to access information on these devices in order to investigate terrorism.
Still, the end result would weaken the overall security of the mobile devices. If security agencies are able to access the information on a device, the same method could be used by tech-savvy criminals.
It is equally important to consider other implications of disabling the auto-erase feature.
A Supreme Court of Canada ruling from December, 2014 allows police in this country to make warrantless searches of cell phones under certain conditions.
As concerns about the threat of terrorism increase, it is possible that the parameters for warrantless searches could expand.
Several decades ago, in the early 1950s, the anti-communist panic of the time resulted in widespread investigations and security checks.
During that time, in one year alone, Canadian authorities conducted checks of 70,000 people including civil servants, scientists, university professors and trade unionists.
Today, the Red Scare of the early 1950s is over, but the threat of terrorism is a serious concern.
Could we enter into another era of widespread security checks, allegations and accusations as a result of providing law enforcement officials with a way of accessing data on an iPhone?
Not necessarily. However, the need for caution remains.
The growing concerns about potential terrorist attacks have led to a spirit of fear similar to what existed in the past.
Against such a backdrop, any tool offering access to personal data is something which must be used carefully and sparingly.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.