The United Nations (UN) has waded into the Apple-FBI iPhone encryption case, claiming that pushing for backdoors in computer systems risks opening a “Pandora’s Box” that would undermine everyone's security.
A detailed statement by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, explained that the use of encryption is vital in keeping people safe when sending digital communications, a stance the UN has outlined before.
“Encryption tools are widely used around the world, including by human rights defenders, civil society, journalists, whistleblowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment,” Hussein said.
He warned that the safety of these people would be at risk if Apple, and then other firms, are forced to lessen the privacy on their devices.
“A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world,” he said.
“It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers. There have already been a number of concerted efforts by authorities in other states to force IT and communications companies such as Google and BlackBerry to expose their customers to mass surveillance."
Hussein added that security forces around the world would take advantage of the ability to break into people’s phones.
“Personal contacts and calendars, financial information, health data and many other rightfully private information needs to be protected from criminals, hackers and unscrupulous governments who may use them against people for the wrong reasons,” he said.
Hussein urged the FBI to fully consider the implications of an action that would affect almost everyone.
“This is not just about one case and one IT company in one country. It will have tremendous ramifications for the future of individuals’ security in a digital world which is increasingly inextricably meshed with the actual world we live in,” he said.
Hussein's comments come in the same week that Apple and the FBI squared off in Congress over the case. The FBI claimed that getting Apple to build a version of iOS that lets the agency break into the phone is necessary to access data from a gunman in the San Bernardino terrorist incident.
Apple, with the support of many of its rivals in the technology sector, has made similar arguments to the UN commissioner, warning that everyone’s security will be at a risk if backdoors or insecure versions of its software are created as it would be impossible to ensure they will not get into the wrong hands.
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