19 February 2016

robot eye

When you upload a photo to your phone or backup your data to the cloud, do you know where that information is stored? Did you read the open letter released by Apple this week?

Whilst it is about time we see these global tech companies taking a stand, when you look into the language that is used in this letter, it is certainly a shame to see the weaknesses of words like ‘would’ and ‘will’ in such an important issue as creating a back door to access every Apple device in the world!

For me the letter raises more questions than anything.

The US government have clearly designed this case to try to curry favour with the public by using very sensitive subjects to get a much wider ruling, and get a back door.

There have been rumours for a number of years about US businesses creating these back doors for the government and it’s scary to see that they have to operate under a ruling from the in court that means they have to provide this information to the government.

Apple has helped the FBI with all cases of terrorism, so I don’t understand how that’s not enough.

In the UK we have the legislation for tech firms to hand over information to help with legal investigations, and we are legally obliged to provide that information when presented with a letter from the court. But to have a scenario where people can freely use their judgement to make the call to access personal information of individuals, without needed to go through this court process each time is incredibly worrying.

We know that all people are different and that power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is not healthy to give someone the key to accessing every mobile phone in the world. Even on a basic level, if the person with the key to this information is going through some personal problems, can you trust them not to access the information of the person who’s causing those problems?

This letter, and the controversial request behind it, reinforces the need for British and European businesses to be very careful with how they interact with US companies.

The moment we sign up to one of these license agreements – which notably no one ever reads – we just click through and accept, and if you are uploading pictures or content, you lose your rights to that content.

These agreements are designed to be complex and unfriendly. There isn’t the option to sign up to parts of it and it’s very demonstrative. Because of this all-encompassing approach, if they are then passing information to the US government, they can literally track your every move, your interests and activities, and who you communicate with.

I just don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t think there’s a need for it. There’s no need for the big brother attitude, it drives a subversive culture.

With the new Safe Harbour agreement massively missing the mark for securing data transfer outside of the EU, and now this ruling hitting the headlines, now is the time for British and European businesses to take a stand and ask where their business-critical and personal data is being stored.

You need to ask if you can accept the fact that American companies are subjected to these laws – wherever their data is stored in the world. Thousands of businesses use Sales Force a company that is hosted in America, and millions of people – including myself – use Facebook, also an American company. Where do you draw the line?

Now is the time to start asking these questions.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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