At the time when Apple was still openly gainsaying the U.S. government's order on giving them "special access" to its security systems, its competitors were also its staunchest backers. At some point, as this saga continues, it has somehow encouraged tech brands to contradict the government over its demands on gaining private consumer information.
Last month, tech giant Microsoft filed a case against the government over numerous secret requests to obtain customer data. The company believes that this is a direct breach of the Fourth Amendment that gives consumers the prerogative to know whether a government entity is searching through or attempting to seize their property.
According to a report by Reuters, Microsoft implied in the suit that the government is misusing a completely outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by conducting investigations on individuals and companies storing customer information in the cloud. For the tech company, the government is abusing its power over conducting secret investigations, calling it a clear exploitation of the tech company's transition to cloud computing technology and encroachment of consumer's right to privacy. Microsoft, through its chief legal officer Brad Smith, has even urged other firms to follow Apple's move and take a stand on this escalating issue.
This all said, there could be a massive "tech brands versus the government" in the offing. Just like any other publicized disagreements, it will be the powerless consumers who will end up divided. Surely, there will be those who'll think that the government is just offering "partnership" with the tech companies in order for them to solve crimes easier and faster. The other fraction would then say that consumers' privacy is king, and the people have the right to know whether there's somebody out there snatching their personal info.
Critical thinkers would also question tech brands' reluctance over handing over customer information to trusted government officials. It's all about honoring privacy, but certainly there would be notions that tech companies could be hiding something, an idea that could be detected easily in the government's statement in contrast to Apple's lawsuit against them. Conversely, this also renders the government incompetent-Edward Snowden has a word for it-as why a government that has all the resources in the world can't even break into a mere iPhone system?
However, it isn't just a giant tech brand's game. What could happen in the lawsuits concerning online and cloud privacy against the US government could also directly affect their smaller counterparts-the startups, the SMEs.
"This [privacy] issue is subjective. You can't win, no matter which position you take on the topic," said Dom Einhorn, CEO of fast rising global news app for business and finance Born2Invest. "Of course, sooner or later it can change how smaller brands operate and deliver service. But we should not forget that our main concern here is to put the consumers-their safety and their needs-on top of our priority."
In the end, as cloud computing expert Davit Linthicum said it, the powerless customers always lose. A full win both for the government and Microsoft could result in another series of problems and confusions, a cycle of unending counter-lawsuits that put the customers in peril. "[I]f the United States can compel it to turn over data stored in Ireland, the Chinese government could compel it to turn over data stored in the United States. But a full win by Microsoft is also worrisome. I understand the desire to deny access to everything, but the government will fight that stance to the point of distraction," he wrote.
Just recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) publicly announced that it's mulling over revising its existing rulings and ordering the local US telcos and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to inform their respective customers first on brands who want to use their information for whatever purpose. This is quite a good move from the government, as it shows that it could really put consumer interest at the center of its mandate. Still, it's too early to say it if the commission would really give it a go.
Does this say that the existing laws that could protect consumers from data theft need immediate revisions? Because if they're really outdated and have plenty of loopholes then the consumers will be the first ones to suffer. It's a very important question since it looks like the consumers' faith remains in the hands of two entities looking at each other with contempt.