Second part of Edward Snowden interview repeats accusation that Apple, other tech companies grant the NSA access to private data

Apple, along with Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, has once again been accused of granting the U.S. government, and the NSA in particular, access to private user data. In the second part of an interview conducted back in June but posted today, Edward Snowden tells The Guardian:

Beyond that we've got PRISM which is a demonstration of how the US Government co-opts US corporate power to its own end. Companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, they all get together with the NSA and provide the NSA direct access to the back ends of all of the systems that we use to communicate, to store data, to put things in the cloud. And even just to send birthday wishes and keep a record of your life. And they give NSA direct access that they don't need to oversee so they can't be held liable for it.

Previously, to address the issue, Apple (opens in new tab) posted "commitment to customer privacy". It said in part:

We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order.

We can choose to believe the accusations, or the denials, but it points to a far larger issue: the need the believe. Where there's no transparency, there's no real trust. Unfortunately, with not only the U.S. and other governments implicated in massive, unprecedented, horrific surveillance, along with pretty much every major technology platform owner and communications companies there's no one and nothing that can be trusted.

We can't switch phones. We can't switch networks. We can't switch countries. We can apply better security on our own ends, put PGP on our email and use onion routers for our internet traffic, but when data is stored our privacy isn't only at risk now, but into the future, where decryption technology might chew through in milliseconds what it takes months to chew through today.

It also removes the illusion of our being a needles in a haystack, because long-term storage means nothing can be lost to the stream, it's always and only just a query away. Everything is potentially being sifted through and cataloged, the messages we're sending our loved ones, and the contracts we're negotiating at work. And it transcends active exchanges. How do really know when the microphones on our devices are really turned on, or the cameras in our bedrooms. It's the transition from an expectation of privacy to an expectation of no privacy. It's a potential violation so deep, and so enormous, the mind recoils from it. It's the loss of innocence, the type that occurs after any human-engineered disaster, only far more subversive because it exists in bits and not atoms. We can't see the loss, and we can't appreciate the repercussions.

Apple has used the privacy card to compete against the likes of Google and Facebook in the past. Why not use it to compete for us now? Make our data as difficult as possible to collect and access, from adding super-easy PGP to and encrypting iMessage, FaceTime, and other communications in a way that's not only secure, but openly, verifiably secure?

It may well be impossible to stop the widespread accumulation of raw bits, but there's nobility in the attempt, and where goes Apple, so often do others follow.

Source: The Guardian

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Best article you have ever written Rene. This violation cuts to the Core. The worst part is that we have no way to maintain privacy. I can see the beginnings of a gruesome future, but lack the ability to stop it. This seems to be a problem bigger than Microsoft, Apple or Google, the solution rest in normal everyday people deciding that this is not the democracy we signed up for. Until then the feeling of hopelessness remains.
  • "You have zero privacy anyway… Get over it."
    - Scott McNealy, CEO Sun Microsystems, in 1999
  • It's been weeks and no black helicopters have shown up. Nobody's kicked down my door. I haven't been water boarded. Shouldn't that have happened already?
  • The military-police state and it's enablers are the real traitors, Snowden is a hero. Although to many Americans, the death of the Constitution and our freedoms is no surprise. The USA as we once knew it is long gone, it's kind of strange too, you'd think this sort of thing would cause people to go nuts, cause massive uprising among the people, it's the sort of thing the right wing always proclaims their guns will protect us from. Yet hear we are, and not many people seem to care one iota, the NRA and its supporters aren't protecting us from anything. Tyranny is here and it got here without a fight, Americans are some of the most docile people on the planet, nothing will be done to stop this nightmare.
  • This. Well said.
  • If you use a corporation cloud to store your data then you shouldn't expect to have any privacy. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are not in the business of keeping customer data safe nor private. They are all in the business of profiting off of users. If you want a secure phone (sans calls), use an open system and apply security restriction apps (they are out there). Don't expect companies like Apple or Microsoft to take your interests above profits.
  • not shocked at all. He might go to Cuba.....I'm from Cuba,and I don't want to go there for anything.
  • I'm starting a Kickstarter fund for the Pony Express 2.0.
  • I salute Snowden
  • For those of us that grew up during the Cold War, this was to be expected. Everything humanly possible intercepted and analyzed. If this comes as a surprise now, you live in a fools paradise. Me, I have nothing to hide and they can read what they want. For those that use today tools for setting up evil, even if we just catch and prevent one act it is worth doing.
  • Honestly, I don't see the big deal. We have been tracked forever by our governments, banks and credit card companies, now we added our digital communications to the mix, but it's not like our privacy was really private to start with, we just had a better illusion of privacy. If I was in charge of the government I would be doing the same. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". This quote is from the 17th century and has been used by Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill among many others. The question is not to spy or not to spy, but what is being done with the data, what results will come from the surveillance. If you really want privacy, get off the grid and go live in a cave. I don't feel any worse with the NSA having access to my data and not having to solely trust private parties bound by fiduciary obligations like Apple, Microsoft or Google, which had our data from the get go anyway.
  • The NSA & CIA sometimes spy on people??? Oh my god, I'm shocked. Snowden took a Sys. Admin job with them and was surprised to find this little detail? He's nothing short of a complete idiot. Hey at least the NSA is doing their J.O.B. More than you can say for the rest of the Federal government.
  • The type of spying revealed recently is explicitly outside the charter of the NSA, not to mention at least appearing to be in direct violation of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution.
  • The problem with the suggestion to "compete for us now" is one of trust. Given Snowden's revelations, the flat-out lying to Congress by the head of the NSA, and the word games in the responses from most tech companies (e.g. Apple and Google both used the phrase "direct access" in their non-denial denials), most people would not trust end-to-end encryption supplied by Apple. If they supplied me with the ability to use PGP in my email (and somehow went against their apparently policy with iMessage and did not keep the ability to decrypt themselves to facilitate transfer between devices), I simply would not trust them not to have provided some indirect means of access to third parties. This problem is not unique to Apple, of course -- Google and Microsoft have shown themselves to be just as complicit.
  • At least my iPhone doesn't "know when I'm looking at it" and "pause the screen" or keep the screen from timing out. That feature on the S4 has always creeped me out. And didn't the Galaxy Nexus have a feature that lets you unlock it with your Face? I know that none of this has to do with PRISM, but what if those features could be used by PRISM against you. They're not on the iPhone. Just sayin.
  • Well said Rene. I'd like to see some encryption added. What is the point of all this online security we strive for when absolutely nothing is secure at all?
  • This encryption also needs to be open source and the keys cannot be kept by Google, Apple or Microsoft.