In an editorial in The New York Times on June 5th, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden took a congratulatory bow, slammed the U.S. government and lauded tech giant Apple for being an industry pioneer on privacy issues.
Snowden started his op-ed piece by rather immodestly taking credit for the revamping of the Patriot Act, although in fairness he did play a major, if indirect role. He says: “Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen…”
More on Apple technology and personal privacy issues
In terms of Apple, Snowden notes: “Basic technical safeguards such as encryption — once considered esoteric and unnecessary — are now enabled by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private.”
Snowden’s praise for Apple is a fitting counterpoint to the criticism that the company has received from U.S. law enforcement authorities for iOS 8’s security. For example, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole claimed back in 2014 that Apple was marketing to criminals, and that its technology would one day lead to the death of a child since police would not be able to get the data they needed from an iPhone.
iOS 8 is designed to encrypt iPhone and iPad data automatically, but Apple has no access to encryption keys, so the firm cannot produce someone’s data even when pressured by intelligence agencies or is served a subpoena.
Earlier Snowden documents revealed a CIA program to crack the security of iOS, OS X, BitLocker, and other platforms. The extent that U.S. intelligence may have compromised iOS 8, earlier versions of iOS have been cracked by law enforcement.
Major turnaround from earlier comments from Snowden on Apple
Of note, these recent comments from Snowden are a complete about face from a few months ago, when the whisleblower’s lawyer said that he will not use an iPhone, since they have “has special software that can activate itself without the owner” that will collect data. The statement from Snowden’s attorney did not expand the whether that meant deep-level spyware or just general data tracking for device diagnostics.