When 2016 could have been like 1984

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Apple standing up against the pressure of FBI is a critical moment for our future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 1983, when Apple released one of the most monumental and memorable commercials to date. The ad depicted a heroine charging at a Big Brother-like figure, an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with a hammer. The heroine ends up throwing the hammer at the figure and the figure erupts, and then words appeared on the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.

We all celebrated.

On February 16, 32 years after the commercial aired, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to his customers, raising a lot of concerns and showing how close we were to losing our privacy, just like the characters from Orwell’s fiction. The technology company was receiving external pressure from the US government to build a backdoor to customers’ personal devices. This backdoor would enable government officials—under specific protocol and significant measures—to access data by bypassing security. In another word, the FBI would have been able to access your iPhone if they were “suspicious” of you.

Cook wrote in his letter that such a backdoor does not currently exist, and that they don’t intend to build one, despite the government’s pressure—and pressure from many fearful citizens. The risk is far too great. The slope is far too slippery. One thing will lead to the next and before you know it, the government will have access to all the data we keep in our devices. We keep a lot of data in our devices.

Creating this backdoor is undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the countless terrorist attacks that have taken place on US soil recently, because terrorists use the same technology we do and need to communicate with each other to orchestrate attacks. However, to simply give up our rights to privacy within our personal communication channels would be a victory for the terrorists. They want us to take extreme measures. They want us to turn the lens upon ourselves. The world does not become safer because of heightened monitoring. It becomes more paranoid.

I remember years ago when cameras in public places was a big controversy. Now, it is the norm. But those cameras are stationary. They don’t travel with us. They are not an extension of who we are. We don’t share our intimate moments with those cameras. Our devices, on the other hand, are in a sense our other hand, and to have the government forcibly hold it wherever we go is a scary thought. It’s what Apple vowed not to do when they aired that commercial. It vowed not to turn our world into a dystopian place ruled by a mistrustful administration, and it is holding true to its word.

While the answer is not to build a backdoor, I do believe there is a solution, one that requires thought and careful calculation, and one that does not compromise the security and privacy of law-abiding citizens. We just need to think about it differently.

How to live with Big Brother

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Understanding why privacy matters

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

While it isn’t necessarily the government that is tracking all your activity, the combination of all the data accumulated in day-to-day life is enough for them to know you better than your parents do. We can almost be certain that, although there is nobody watching us on a screen, our every action is recorded, filed away, and capable of being pulled out and evaluated by those with the credentials to do so. Most often those people aren’t people at all, they are just marketing algorithms designed to match your queries and daily behaviours with advertisements.

Now, Google isn’t out to embarrass you by exposing your search queries. TransLink will not send a message to your girlfriend if you decide to make a mysterious trip out to Surrey. Bell is not going to let your boss know that you’ve been trash talking him with your friends. These things don’t benefit the company, so don’t be paranoid.

It’s hard to trust the motives of big corporations, but I always bring it back to one question: Does such and such action cause them to lose or gain money? If your behaviour continues to benefit the business you get the service from, you can keep going merrily by—as long as you are not committing any heinous crimes.

There is no way around it; we need to trust companies to use our information ethically. However, we need to also be conscious of what information we are haphazardly giving away. See, privacy matters. Without privacy, you’ll lose control of your own life. The companies will own it.

Any sort of meaningful self-development does not happen in a group, or with Sauron’s eye watching you. It happens independently, not on Facebook and not while Googling. I’m not talking about education or improving your business skills or finding online romance, I’m talking about the growth that occurs when you are allowed room to breathe. This is the type of growth that has no deadlines and no guidance. This in essence is the life you’ll live.

We have become so obsessed with sharing our experiences on social media, telling everything we do to Big Brother, that we are forgetting the real point of our pursuits: to create memories that aren’t saved on any hard drive, except the one between our ears. We are scared of people listening in on us, but we have stopped listening to ourselves.

The season is changing. It’ll be a warm summer, I predict. This is an opportunity to get away from the information highway and do something nobody on the Internet will know. Big companies are constantly collecting data, and so should you. The good thing is, you get to decide what information you want to store: what’s spat out to you by those online or what you discover yourself. It’s up to you.