Last week the United States Justice Department dropped a high-profile showdown with Apple where they had sought to hack into an iPhone 5C owned by one of the San Bernardino terror shooters.
The government dropped it after they hacked the phone without help.
In a world where we willingly share tons of details about ourselves, why should the privacy of things we have on our phones matter?
Many people might say there is no really harm from the government tracking us with their mass surveillance. (If you drive your car around the United States, the government could know if you’ve been to a therapist or an Overeater’s Anonymous meeting thanks to Automatic License Plate Readers that capture images of every passing.)
Sounds like a good technique for catching terrorists or general thugs huh? Some believe there is no harm from this large-scale invasion of privacy - only people involved in bad acts have a reason to hide right?
We good people who use our cars or the internet to go to work, come home, raise our children, plan outings, or just buy junk from Amazon have no reason to fear the government, right? We don’t use the internet to plot attacks, we’re just using it to post pictures of our kid’s latest dance recital.
But even if we are not doing anything wrong, privacy matters. The ability to have private thoughts is essential to our psyche. There’s a reason we still take steps to safeguard our privacy, putting passwords on our social media accounts and locks on our doors. Even if he’s a friendly neighbor, we still don’t want him to stand outside and look through the windows. Nor do we want co-workers reading our personal e-mails. No matter how mundane or boring, you don’t want anyone snooping in your life.
In his TED Talk, Glenn Greenwald, one of the first reporters to see the Edward Snowden files with their revelations about the United States’ extensive surveillance of citizens, said humans may be social animals with a need for others to know what we’re doing (that’s why there’s 300 million photos posted daily on Facebook), it is equally essential for us to have a place that we can be free of judgmental eyes.
“There’s a reason why we seek that out, and our reason is that all of us - not just terrorists and criminals - have things to hide. There are all sorts of things that we do and think that we’re willing to tell our physician or our lawyer or our psychologist or our spouse or our best friend that we would be mortified for the rest of the world to learn,” Greenwald said.
He points out there are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant.
Privacy is important to limit government power and the power of private sector companies. The more they know about us, the more power they can have over us. Privacy is about respecting individuals and our freedom of thought. A watchful eye over everything we read or watch can stop us from exploring ideas outside the mainstream.
Knowing you’re being watched changes everything you do. Mass surveillance takes away our inherent freedoms and breeds conformity. It’s not about “the good people vs. the bad people,” it’s about what privacy means as a whole.
If we allow constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.
So when the government wants to hack into one person’s iPhone they are really seeking to hack into everyone’s.