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Brian Ryer's Personal Blog



18th century privacy with 21st century tools


Brian Ryer is Saying Things


18th century privacy with 21st century tools

Brian Ryer

Apple recently announced an update to their mobile operating system, iOS 8, which includes two very important privacy features: encryption of the content stored on your device by default and the removal of backdoor access, i.e. third party access to that content without your consent.

Why is this important?

Two and a half centuries ago personal information was stored in journals, under candlesticks, in piles of correspondence, behind hidden panels in desk drawers and in many other places. Today it is stored in one place: your mobile device.

Backdoor access to this single device can be likened to an 18th century writ of assistance, subjecting your home to a general search for anything which might be there. Removing this type of access to our modern papers and effects re-affirms the strong disdain for general searches codified in the Fourth Amendment.

Encryption by default re-establishes an expectation of privacy, which has deteriorated over the last 30 years. This deterioration is due mostly to a cultural preference for economic expediency over personal privacy. This preference is now proving to be politically untenable. 

Encryption, by default, with no backdoors, is the re-actualization of basic privacy rights originally conceived in the 18th century using 21st century tools.

Apple has effectively placed the contents of your mobile devices, no matter where they are, in the same informational safe zone as the contents of your home. We should thank them for it and reward other companies that do the same.