The current fight between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice, which is trying to execute a search warrant in a criminal matter, has been framed by Apple and its defenders as a battle over privacy.
Apple is not arguing that the information sought should never be seen by the government. The company handed over all the information asked for in the warrant that had already been stored on Apple’s own servers, some of which is presumably still on the phone. Where Apple wants to draw the line is the privacy of its customers who don’t back up their phones on the cloud.
It’s not enough to say you want privacy, because privacy means so many things to different people across not just national borders but even within countries.
Mortgage recording means I can figure out how much you owe your bank. Your series of LLC’s you thought would keep your beneficial ownership a secret comes unraveled when you borrow money because banks want to see who’s at the end of the chain before they lend. When they lend, the rest of us can take a peek. Yet, some countries keep mortgage information private.
Do you have the right to make private the details of your divorce? If you live in New York you do. Because those records are sealed. In other states, how much you pay your former spouse in alimony and support is wide open for everyone to see. You might as well make your tax returns public.
Speaking of tax returns, those most confidential of documents: some European countries thought to be superior guardians of privacy put everyone’s income on the internet.
Some people don’t want information on their phone made less secure because the government could get a look at health information. Health information is private, except when you have national health insurance as does most of Europe and Canada. Then, your information is between you, your doctor, and the government. Some people would still call that privacy, but it’s not as private as if it were locked on an encrypted Apple phone.
As an opinion piece in the New York Times said today, nobody appointed Apple to be the definer of privacy. That’s something governments do when they draft constitutions and statutes that their courts interpret.