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Security Experts Warn of Orwellian Future if Government Wins Apple Case

Your Samsung smart TV or Amazon Echo might spy on you next, group warns.

Adam Berry / Getty Images

Your Samsung smart TV or Amazon Echo might spy on you next if the government succeeds in forcing Apple to disable security protections on a smartphone to further the FBI’s investigation into the San Bernardino attacks.

Security experts from Stanford, Harvard and Rice universities and independent researchers laid out this Orwellian scenario in a court filing today, supporting Apple’s fight against a court order to help investigators hack a smartphone used by one of the assailants in the mass killing.

The group of seven experts argues that the judge’s order, forcing Apple to compromise the security on one of its products so it can be used as a forensic tool, leaves open a number of disturbing possibilities for how law enforcement might turn everyday items into surveillance tools.

“There is nothing in the All Writs Act or the court’s order that would put off-limits software ‘updates’ that turn on a smart TV’s microphone for eavesdropping purposes or activate a laptop camera for video surveillance,” wrote Stanford law professor Jennifer Stisa Granick. “These other bypasses will pose their own, potentially even worse, privacy, cybersecurity and personal safety risks to the public.”

The security experts noted that mobile phones are among the most intimate devices in existence — many people sleep with their phones by their beds. Forced software updates could convert consumer friendly features — front- and rear-facing cameras, say — into government surveillance tools.

Not at all creepy.

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