Privacy, Digital Literacy, Apple, and Cats

I just finished reading the amazingly well written response to the government from Apple in the San Bernardino case. Before I go on, please understand that I’m not saying that what happened in San Bernardino wasn’t terrible. It was. It was horrible. But what the government is asking for in this case is dangerous. It opens everyone up to invasions of privacy, theft of trade secrets, identity theft and worse.

What I want to talk about is how this affects people like our patrons. People going through their lives using devices and starting to use the internet and social media for the first time. When I start to teach Intro to Internet, or Facebook or Twitter, patrons ask me a lot of questions about privacy. I know that a lot of people assume that beginners in using computers and phones aren’t savvy about privacy issues, but that isn’t necessarily true. I’ve always found it to be the opposite. They ask good, intelligent and relevant questions about privacy and security, and they ask me if it is safe.

I always tell them it’s not.

Because security online doesn’t really exist, using technology like smart phones and social media will always be a series of risk assessments.

Do I post this photo of my child? My margarita? Do I check in to this location? Should I put a password on my lock screen? Does it even matter if I do, if the government (or anyone else who can figure out the backdoor) can just pop in anytime they want anyway?

Forcing Apple to create a backdoor into the iPhone changes that risk assessment. It means that people who are already not participating in the social internet might decide not to.

Because once that backdoor is put in, it’s going to be really really hard to keep it shut. Like the stray cat that keeps sneaking into my mom’s house through the cat door and eating her cat’s food. Because you don’t always get to control which cat comes through that door. And sometimes? It’s not a cat, it’s a raccoon or a squirrel, and really who needs that?

black cat emerging from pet door
He’s cute, but he just ate your cat’s food and stole your credit card numbers.

I hope Apple wins this case. And I hope that if they don’t, the engineers stick to their guns and refuse. As we try to bridge the digital divide in libraries, tipping that risk assessment towards no will hold our communities and our neighbors back from really participating in a 21st century economy. And that’s a real loss.