UN Commissioner Claims Encryption Battle Threatens Human Rights

The Apple-FBI dispute has been attracting media attention for months now; the U.S. government has been attempting to force tech companies to create back doors for their encryption services (to further enable government surveillance) for months, and the tragic San Bernardino attack a few months back only bolstered the NSA’s efforts. The FBI currently holds the iPhone of one of the attackers, which is locked and cannot be opened without the attackers’ code (the attacker is deceased). Now they want Apple to create software that will allow the government to sidestep the encryption that come with standard iPhones so that they can break into the phone and view any terrorist activity that the attacker might be linked to.

tim cookHowever, Apple CEO Tim Cook as stood firm against these government efforts; his opinion is that the government can’t force a tech company to create a product that in turn lowers the quality of the company’s original product. He also believes that creating a backdoor for the encryption on iPhones won’t just allow government agents to snoop on phone holders; the entire system will be weakened to the point that malevolent hackers will be able to gain access as well.

As the debate has raged on, a variety of important figureheads have weighed in. Microsoft creator Bill Gates recently expressed his opinion that Apple ought to make the back door software, which the tech industry saw as a big blow to the validity of its argument.

However, recently another important figure voiced his opinion to the contrary. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’Ad Al-Hussein stated on Friday that the U.S. authorities must proceed with great caution. He claimed that human rights were on the line, and not just American lives. According to the human liberties expert, American precedent could lead to intense crackdowns in various authoritarian countries.

“In order to address a security-related issue related to encryption in one case, the authorities risk unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security,” Al-Hussein stated. “In the meantime, everyone involved should consider the wider implications of such a decision.”

fbi sealWhile Al-Hussein believed that the FBI deserved support in its efforts to investigate a terrible terrorist attack, he also believed that the issue at hand could potentially have ramifications that extend far beyond the one particular case:

“A successful case against Apple in the U.S. will set a major precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world,” Al-Hussein warned.

Many have disputed the FBI’s claim that the software would only be used once, for this particular iPhone, and that the necessity of breaking into the phone trumps the potential overstepping of the FBI into the privacy of the deceased terrorist. However, tech companies have been quick to point out that there’s no way of ensuring that the FBI only uses the software once, and that crimes have been solved since far before the invention of smartphones.

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