Encryption Conniption: Privacy and Security in a Digital World
Recently, Apple and Google have come under fire from several police and law organizations over their use of encryption on smartphones. With the release of iOS 8, Apple wrote on their privacy page that
“On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data.” (Source)
Understandably, organizations such as the FBI have denounced this data protection, protesting that services like this place users “beyond the law”. Ironically, going “beyond the law” has been exactly what the NSA’s data collection program has recently discovered to have been doing, which is part of the cause for recent privacy and security developments such as this.
Other government organizations have responded even more strongly that the FBI. The Chief of Detectives for Chicago’s police department, John J. Escalante, has even gone so far as to state that
“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile.” (Source)
This is an unusual argument, and to help understand it better I have broken it down into its different pieces:
- Premise 1: Pedophiles are in want of products that do not allow outside parties to see their data.
- Premise 2: Apple phones are products that do not allow outside parties to see their users data.
- Conclusion: Apple phones are going to become the phone of choice for the pedophile.
Let’s go through each part in-depth to determine whether the argument is true, valid, and/or sound.
- Premise 1: While this premise makes somewhat of a sweeping generalization about pedophiles, it still appears to hold true. It makes logical sense that those who commit crimes and do not want to be punished for their crimes would purchase products that conceal their potentially incriminating data from outside parties.
- Premise 2: At this point in time the premise seems to be true, as shown by Apple’s privacy page. However, there is no knowing if this may change in the future.
At this point, we can infer that this argument is factually correct because all of its premises are true (note: just because an argument is factually correct does not mean that its conclusion is true, only its premises).
Well, what about the conclusion?
This is where the argument falls through. The conclusion does not follow from the premises, so the argument is invalid. Let me explain why.
The conclusion relies on a large assumption not present in the premises:
- Note: This argument states that “Apple phones are going to become the phone of choice for the pedophile.” If something is the “anything of choice”, it is distinguished from other choices in some way. In this case, possible distinguishments could be availability of options or perhaps quality. This leads to the assumption below.
- Assumption: Apple Phones are the distinguished (i.e. only or best) option for encrypted data and communications.
- This is obviously wrong: there are countless products and services that offer encrypted data and communications. It is wrong to assume that Apple Phones are the only options in this area. In fact, they may not even be the best choice – there are many other choices such as open-source encrypted messenger surespot and encrypted data service spideroak (note: the author of this article does not assert the authenticity of these services – use at own risk).
- The conclusion of this argument relies on this assumption, and as this assumption is false, the conclusion is also false.
So, the argument is invalid – is that it then? Not quite.
Arguments such as this about criminals using encryption are outdated. Yes, criminals use encryption, but so do everyday citizens (and the government, for that matter). Encryption may conceal evidence from the government, but so do walls. Encryption and walls alike protect the privacy of individuals, and just because criminal use is a possibility does not mean they should be scrapped. We have a right to privacy, and it should not be thrown aside.