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Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

Public safety and Apple’s encryption woes

City’s Professor David Stupples says the security services ‘need information to keep us safe’.
by John Stevenson (Senior Communications Officer)

In his response to the debate around iPhone manufacturer Apple’s dispute with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over access to the phone of dead terrorist Syed Farook, Professor David Stupples says the security services need information to keep citizens safe.

Farook and his wife Tafsheen Malik, killed 14 people in San Bernadino, California, in December 2015.

David StupplesCourt proceedings have commenced after Apple refused to create a customized piece of software for the FBI to allow the security agency to access Farook’s iPhone. The technology company believes that the FBI’s access to encrypted devices could have negative implications for the future of mobile phone security. The Feds argue that Apple’s unwillingness to comply is hampering its investigation.

Severely weakened trust

Professor Stupples is a researcher specialising in internet security, cyber terrorism and organized cyber crime. He believes that in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013, public trust in security services has been severely weakened. Compliance with the FBI in this instance however, in light of terror threats, is vital:

“The security services have an important job to do. They need to ensure the safety of citizens.  Without these services, organizations such as ISIS pose an even greater threat. Since the married couple in question were not on the FBI's radar, some of the content on their iPhone will be hidden, but all of the metadata can be recovered. However, With careful piecing together of this information, much of the recent past history of the couple's life can be brought to light."

The squabble involving the FBI and Apple bears close similarity to the spat between the Indian government and BlackBerry in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. The Indian government’s security agencies were unable to ‘crack’ BlackBerry’s encryption and monitor content on handsets.

Image (Top): View Apart /


Encryption is the conversion of electronic data into another form, called ciphertext, which cannot be easily understood by anyone except authorized parties. Its purpose is to protect the confidentiality of digital data stored on computer systems or transmitted via the Internet or other computer networks.

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