In the 1998 movie “the Truman Show”, Truman was born into a world created just for him. Guided by the director of the show, different actors manipulated Truman into friendships, love and life as the director saw fit. Every step Truman took was recorded, every conversation was scripted and live streamed, he had no privacy, no real interaction, he lived in an artificial world operated by humans. The Truman show was a movie about an imaginary reality show, or maybe it was a small piece of fiction that became reality?
In the year 2017, private cooperations such as google and facebook follow our every activity on the internet using “cookies” (isn’t it ironic that cookies sound so innocent). With these cookies, they profile us and accordingly feed us the news they think we want to read, the people they think we want to meet, the product they think we want to buy, essentially, they are directing our artificial on-line lives.
The government is not standing on the sidelines, also the government wants to know everything about us. As Professor Jennifer Granick of Stanford University notes, the Snowden leaks taught us, inter alia, about PRISM, a government program made to surveil communications related to terrorism, by gathering contents of civilian communications in bulk, including those of Americans, in order to scrutinize them and fish the ones that could give away terrorist activities. The NSA is tapping into the backbone of the internet and to as many communication gates as possible, e.g. communication providers, in order to “Collect It All” i.e. obtain the content of every communication possible, and safeguard the country from future cyber or kinetic attacks.
Essentially, private cooperations and the government are directing our lives, recording our every step, listening to our conversations, feeding us content at their discretion, regulating and monitoring every action we take or information we consume. This strikes great similarities to the Truman show, where there was a glitch in the system. When Lauren fell in love with Truman she tried to open his eyes to the scheme, tried to show him that he doesn’t really own his life, it’s all a big production directed by “the Man”. Edward Snowden, while his motives can be disputed, opened our eyes to mass government surveillance. Apple, for purely commercial and monetary reasons, challenged attempts of the government to penetrate into the backbone of our lives, our best friends, our confidants – our cell phones.
Apple and other companies realized that the world is a complex world, between autocracies, dictatorships, anti-human rights entities and syndicates, the public can only trust their confidants if they believe it can truly keep a secret – be secured. The natural equation stemming from this understanding meant more security equals more revenue. Therefore, companies started to encrypt communications made between different cell phones, as well as make it more difficult to hack into them. Apple constantly enhances our cell phones’ security by automatically updating it and patching up new vulnerabilities. Apple also created a mechanism that will make it difficult to hack our phones and run automated algorithms on our passwords in order to crack them. But the show must go on.
The directors of the show, mainly the FBI, weren’t happy with Apple and other companies trying to make it difficult or virtually impossible to know everything about their lead actors. Therefore, they asked the courts (the producers) to intervene and make Apple create software that will bypass the security guards placed by it in the first place, and enable the government to hack into our phones more easily. In an amici brief, technology security experts expressed their dissent to such request by the government, posing mainly policy arguments, all expressing fundamentally the same idea; information contained in cell phones is valuable to different actors e.g. governments, intelligence agencies, syndicates, hackers as well as its owners. Making Apple create software that will allow bypassing its security guards, even only on one phone, will create a slippery slope. It will eventually enable access to our phones by the highest bidders, regardless of their identity and purity of their intentions, thus will both compromise the trust between Apple and its customers and the overall security of private information. The District Court for the Eastern District of New York did not find authority in the 1789 All Writs Act to make Apple create the requested software and Apple had won that legal battle, unduly some argue. That being said, it is far from winning the war against compromising our information and making our most private confidants, a commodity.
Truman was able to exit his artificial world, unfortunately, if the real world is the one we live in, he will be disappointed to learn that our lives are not much different than his life was. Do we really trust private cooperations and the government to strike an apt balance between our security and privacy?