Tradeoffs – it’s a word that we hear all the time as engineers, and software engineering is certainly no exception. Privacy vs. security is a tough one because it affects everyone though it is meant to target only specific individuals, and there isn’t a single policy that can benefit both sides. In Apple’s case with the FBI’s request to remove features to make it easier for them to gain access to a device, I’m not sure what the right thing is to do, but I do commend Apple for taking a firm stand and holding true to its values. They seem to have done the right thing in considering the implications of granting the request, and the potential dangers in weakening their encryption standards. They are genuinely trying to avoid harm, which is an ethical decision they have as leaders in the tech industry. As Tim Cook stated in his letter to customers, they are not trying to protect criminals – this is just a side effect of protecting the privacy of their other customers. I’m not sure I entirely buy the whole “if we don’t encrypt, people who are up to no good will find someone else who does” reasoning, but I think there’s some truth to it. Those who carefully plan out their crimes will go to greater lengths to keep their plans hidden, so Apple’s back door may not be helpful; conversely, those who don’t care to try as hard will probably also leave behind evidence in other accessible places, so the back door wouldn’t be needed.
When it comes to privacy vs. security, it’s hard to draw the line as I mentioned before because they seem mutually exclusive. Security precludes privacy because it requires that everyone and everything is accounted for. You can’t trust that a given person isn’t doing something evil unless you know what they are doing period. Sure, the majority of us are doing mundane things like watching cat videos or going to a course website to view this week’s homework problems, but there’s no way to separate these people from the bad guys accurately and permanently so that we can safely ignore the information/data generated by the “normal” people. When I go to the doctor and he/she wants to take a closer look at something, I usually let them do it because even though it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s important for my health. As uncomfortable as it may be to have somebody following all that you do, at the end of the day, I do believe that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Unless, of course, you’re worried that the information the government has on you will be taken out of context or used to paint an inaccurate picture of what happened. I have no good response to this except that there have been cases where this occurred without access to our phones, so I’m not sure that giving them this new data will make the situation that much worse. It shouldn’t be happening at all. That being said, I think the more relevant question is “Which do we value more?” Do we value everyone’s privacy at the expense of overlooking potential danger, or do we try to stop the bad guys at the expense of the good ones? I’d say that safety and security are more important than personal comfort or convenience.