February

Alvernia Magazine: Spy Games

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Sales of Apple’s new iPhone 6 series got off to a roaring start in September, after a launch that featured all the drama and fanfare for which Apple’s marketing machine is rightly famous. The phones, with their beautiful design, larger screen and other bells and whistles, were catnip to consumers seeking the latest Apple technology and some 10 million units were sold over the first weekend. One new feature on the phone, however, caught some people by surprise: Apple had quietly embedded technology that encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code unique to the owner. In other words, Apple had empowered iPhone 6 owners with greater privacy protections to help subvert snooping and surveillance. As The New York Times noted, if asked by law enforcement or intelligence agencies to provide iPhone 6 content, the company will only be able to hand over “gibberish.” Breaking the code, Apple noted in a technical guide, could take “more than five and a half years.”

Apple is notoriously reluctant to disclose information about its consumer or marketing research, or its corporate decision-making process concerning new products and technologies. But it is difficult not to connect the dots between placing encryption technology in a mega-selling phone and the cascading series of revelations over the past year about the extent of government surveillance of phone calls, email and activities of American citizens, as revealed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who stole and released highly classified documents, and others.

Such revelations have prompted controversy and concern about threats to our privacy and civil liberties. The legality and scope of the government’s reach into our daily lives in the name of fighting crime, terrorism and protecting national security has come into question, as have larger questions about who is seeing, controlling and possibly misusing the massive amounts of data we generate.

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