Reprinted from The Guardian
The US government's effort to force Apple to build a novel "back door" to a single phone could lead to all of our encrypted data on virtually all of our mobile devices and personal computers being compromised by nefarious adversaries seeking to cause us harm, as many have rightly noted before me.
But for queer and transgender people who, as I once did, rely on device encryption to allow us to lead our private lives without legal consequences, the potential repercussions of the government's efforts to eliminate that encryption are utterly chilling. And even if Apple prevails in court this time, lawmakers across the US and throughout the world are now considering laws that would require that all companies build back doors into all of our devices by default.
In the years preceding my imprisonment, I worked as a software programmer, designing and developing web interfaces, secure databases and communication software; later, I was employed as an intelligence analyst for the US army. Throughout each of these jobs, we used different kinds of encryption to keep prying eyes out of information we handled.
However, folks like me face even higher stakes than that. For instance, a trans woman living and working in a less open country (like Russia, Uganda and Nigeria) can face even more serious legal consequences -- including imprisonment, torture and even execution -- if exposed. Queer and trans people living in such countries depend on encrypted devices to build and maintain their communities and voices while avoiding dangerous scrutiny.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has already argued that requiring the company to create a bypass or "back door" would set a dangerous precedent and that it would undermine the security of all such mobile devices. Other technology companies, including Twitter and Facebook, have weighed in by restating their position that they would "fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security" of their devices and services.
I disagree with Apple on many things -- such as its exclusive use of proprietary software and arbitrary restrictions on users seeking to copy, share, edit and create software on their devices. However, I strongly feel that defending its users' and customers' right to strong encryption in court is incredibly important.
Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have a genuine interest in obtaining evidence of wrongdoing, but we need to limit how such evidence is collected. In the case of Apple, complying with this order would almost certainly have negative consequences that would outweigh any law enforcement value, because it could allow anyone from individual criminals to powerful organizations and countries to exploit such "back doors."
And, while in the US and Europe it is easy to forget that our governments have used law enforcement resources to target participants in the civil rights movement, environmentalists, anti-corporate protesters and queer and trans people, many of those same communities in other countries don't have the luxury of forgetting the ways in which their governments claim to be protecting society by persecuting vulnerable communities.
Privacy is not a luxury in America: it is a right -- one that we need to defend in the digital realm as much as in the physical realm. We need to stay vigilant to maintain access to that right, though ... especially as technology continues to advance, and especially when a single order by a US judge to unlock one mobile device threatens to alter the entire digital privacy world as we know it.