Turkey under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not exactly built a reputation for being an open and free society. And following the coup attempt there earlier this year, the Presidents efforts to stifle opposition have grown exponentially.
And the latest target in his regimes efforts to control the internet is VPNs and the Tor network.
VPNs blocked in Turkey
A report from earlier this month on the Turkey Blocks website, which monitors and reports on online censorship in the country, indicated that the Government was attempting to block the Tor network and the Tor browser and also attacking the functionality of certain VPNs.
Given the state of online freedom in the country, it is little wonder that both VPN and Tor use has been on the rise in Turkey, and it seems this has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be. And having blocked a whole host of websites that have reported anti-Government news or advocated political opposition, and been seen to throttle social media sites whenever they feel the need, they are not turning their attention to these privacy tools.
The Turkish Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) initially instructed [in Turkish] the blocking of the Tor network in the country back in early November. Up until earlier this month, that decision did not appear to have been enforce.
In the same document, they also specified that various different VPN services should also be blocked. The list they had put together included VPN Master, Hotspot Shield VPN, Psiphon, Zenmate VPN, TunnelBear, Zero VPN, VyprVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, Express VPN, and IPVanish.
As with their efforts to block Tor, at the time of this instruction, very little changed and these VPNs continued to operate as normal within Turkey. But in recent weeks that has all changed.
The first hint of this change was seen in a number of reports [also in Turkish] in local technology media publications which suggested that the Government in Turkey was now looking to enforce this ban on VPNs and Tor, and that this ban was intended to be put into place across the country.
VPN block now implemented
Again, there was no instantaneous change, but according to Turkey Blocks, the ban did come into force on 12th December. At present, it does not cover the entire country, but the majority of urban and populated areas do appear to be effected. This means that for the majority of Turkish people it is, at present, not possible to use the Tor Network or many of those listed VPN services.
This should not be a cause for huge panic at this stage although at present, this does mean that access to a free and open internet is severely curtailed in much of the country. But there are a number of solutions that have presented themselves to this.
Firstly, with Tor there is the Tor’s bridged nodes solution. This is a tweak to the Tor network that was created to help users in Syria overcome a similar block which was put in place there. It has proved effective and tests suggest that it does also work in Turkey.
Turning to VPNs, and anyone who uses either a custom or private VPN will find they can still make use of their service without any problems at all. Those that don’t have not been forgotten either.
Those VPNs identified by the Turkish regime are already working overtime to create workarounds to allow users in Turkey to access their service again at the earliest opportunity. The only way the Turkish government can block a VPN is by identifying and blacklisting VPN-related IP Addresses. Changing IP Addresses is just one means by which they are likely to get around the block.
But if you can’t wait, there is of course the option to switch to another VPN. There are hundreds of different ones on the market, most of which are not identified and blocked by the Turkish Government. Our recommendation would be to give Buffered a go as it is one of our top scoring providers and is also still working in Turkey.
This is not the first-time Governments have attempted to block VPNs and it will most likely not be the last. But it has about as much chance of long-term success as King Cnut holding back the tide. Technology will find a way, and sooner or later, those VPN providers will restore full service in Turkey.
Australia has become the latest country to crack down on torrenting, with some unintended consequences for VPN usage figures in the country.
Earlier this month, the Australian Federal Court ruled in favour of a motion bought by various parties representing the movie industry. The outcome of that ruling was that access to a number of popular torrenting sites including The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt, SolarMovie, and any proxy and mirror services would be blocked across the country.
At the time of the decision, many commentators noted that legislating to block torrenting sites was something doomed to failure as keeping up with mirror sites and stopping access via privacy tools such as VPNs in all but impossible. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the number of other torrenting sites which will remain unaffected by the block.
VPNs were thought to be the most likely tool Australians would turn to get around the block, and since it has come into force this appears to have been the case.
Increased interest in VPNs
According to analysis by the TorrentFreak website the number of people in Australia searching for VPNs has increased markedly in the immediate aftermath of the blocks introduction.
They have looked at Google trends data for VPN searches in Australia which shows that the number of searches for VPN in Australia doubled instantly, with figures remaining consistently above average from then on.
TorrentFrek has also approached a number of VPNs directly to enquire about their experiences, and their feedback has borne out the findings from the Google data.
ExpressVPN’s David Lang said to TorrentFreak that his VPN had had “almost double” the usual number of visitors to their website from Australia.
Benjamin Van Pelt of TorGuard reiterated this saying that they had also seen a 100% increase in online traffic. He went further, stating that he believed this pattern was likely to continue. In anticipation of this, TorGuard have added additional bandwidth to their Australian data centres in Sydney and Melbourne to cope with the expected increase in demand.
Growing VPN awareness
What has been observed in Australia as a result of the online blocking of torrenting sites is not unique, but rather emphasises the growing awareness of VPNs as a tool to get around Government efforts to curtail internet freedoms around the world.
They found, once again, that blocking such sites leads to an increase in people searching for VPNs and signing up with them.
Many readers are probably thinking these figures are to be expected, but that reality does still seem to be escaping legislators around the world who still believe that blocking internet sites and censoring online content is an effective way to stop people accessing it.
In this day and age, it simply is not. VPNs are an easy-to-use online tool, they are affordable, and they are effective. Even in countries with brutal online censorship regimes like China and Russia, VPN users can go about their business online freely.
As the Australian Government is about to find out, those people using torrenting sites are likely to be tech-savvy enough to master a VPN, if indeed they haven’t already. Which means it is unlikely that the block will stop anyone in Australia from torrenting for more than a few minutes.
It is no coincidence that VPNs have a growing reputation as a tool to access an open, uncensored internet, and no amount of state censorship is going to change that.
Everybody uses Uber these days. It is so much more trendy, efficient and cheap than hailing a regular cab. It’s a modern-day tech phenomenon which many people think has no downsides. But now it appears that if you are the sort of person who values your online privacy, the downsides are significant.
Uber works primarily through its Smartphone App which allows you to hail a cab using the location software in your phone to hail the nearest available car to you.
It has taken off big time for a number of reason. Your cab arrives quicker and usually costs less being two of the big draws.
But it has not been without its controversies, and their new updated app has introduced another. Previously, the app used to only use the GPS location of your phone when it was open. This was usually when you were hailing a cab, so few people complained. But now that has all changed.
The new Uber App also tracks the users GPS signal when it is running in the background. And if you refuse to let it do so, the App will stop working.
Uber says that the App needs this data in order to work properly. The reason they have made the change is that they want to be able to track users for five minutes after they finish using the service.
They say that this is necessary to stop unscrupulous cabbies overcharging as well as to protect customers.
There are a few things to say about this, Firstly, it is not true to say Uber needs location data to function. Such data can be entered manually rather than automatically, and the Uber app does offer this function.
Then there is the debate about whether this additional five minutes is necessary and proportionate, ot whether it is an invasion of privacy. Many users and privacy campaigners have been arguing vociferously that it is the latter.
Uber has also failed to address concerns about what they would do if this data fell into the wrong hands.
If the Uber servers were to be hacked, this data could be accessed by, and such information is likely to reveal details like where you live and work. When combined with other personal information, some of which Uber holds as well, it immediately becomes immensely powerful.
A challenge to the policy has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission in the USA by EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center). But this has yet to be ruled on as the new App goes live.
For users who are very concerned, it is possible to stop Uber from accessing your GPS data by changing the permission on your device manually. This can be done in the settings section of both iOS and Android devices.
But be aware, the Uber app also includes a God View function which lets the company access locations at all times if they so wish. So, in fact, if you really want your data to be kept private, the only way to be sure is to remove the Uber App from your phone altogether and pay through the nose for a black cab. But perhaps this is the lesser of two evils.
New research has revealed that, despite being aware of an increased threat of cyber-attacks, most Americans don’t believe they are at risk personally.
A new study by ReportLinker has revealed some very concerning perspectives on cyber-security from the US population. They survey asked a cross-section of the US population a series of questions and it revealed that even though most were aware that there was an increased risk of cyber-attack, most still though they were not at risk personally.
This might seem on the face of it to be both confused and contradictory, but actually if you dig a little deeper, there is a perverse logic behind the thinking.
First, the headline figures. The survey showed that two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the threat posed by cyber-attacks was higher now than five years ago.
However, 55% also said they felt that their own data was safe from hackers. Why was this? Well, it all boils down to how people become aware of cyber attacks.
Primarily it is still through the headlines of the national news, and here the focus is only even on the big security breaches. What this means is that most people are only aware of the sort of cyber-attacks which companies like Yahoo! Or Sony have fallen victim to.
It is therefore not unreasonable for many of those people to think that cyber attacks are primarily aimed at big corporate entities, or maybe governments, and not individuals such as themselves. The survey went on to support this analysis.
It found that 36% of respondents thought that cyber-criminals only attacked government bodies, while 46% of 45-54-year-olds and 39% of those aged over 65 thought big business and corporations was the main focus. The survey also asked people about the types of devices they thought might be at risk from cyber attacks.
Only 31% of people felt Internet of Things (IoT) devices might be vulnerable, despite the fact that many devices in this rapidly growing market have little or no security built into them. In contrast to this, 42% of respondents thought that smartphones were the most vulnerable device, while 46% opted for laptops and desktop computers.
It then went on to ask about the passwords people used, and the same worrying password trends began to rear their head again.. The two most popular passwords amongst US citizens are, for the fifth successive year, ‘123456’ and ‘password’.
This is despite the fact that experts have repeatedly stressed the need for strong, hard-to-decipher passwords. Evidently this message is still not getting through to the majority of US citizens clearly enough.
Moving on to look at the use of encryption as a security and privacy tool, there was a glimmer of encouragement. 58% of respondents said they did use some sort of encryption or privacy software. However, the majority of those asked were referring to basic steps like using strong passwords or locking their smartphones.
This is of course a start, but in this day and age a VPN and other security software is what is needed to keep your device and your data safe.
What these figures should serve to do is highlight the need for the IT security sector, and the IT industry at large, to do a lot more to educate people in the US about the risks of cyber attacks and the simple steps they should be taking to protect themselves.
Regular readers will be well aware of the recent campaign from Netflix to stop VPN users from accessing their service. Since their announcement at the start of the year that they were going global, Netflix has made a concerted effort to stop VPN users evading their geo-blocking service to watch the services in another country.
Now VPN users are fighting back, arguing that the blanket blocks Netflix are trying to implement are impacting those VPN users who just use the service for privacy protection, and are not evading geo-blocking technology. Some VPN users accessing via a server located in the same country are still finding services blocked.
This week saw their most striking effort yet as a mobile billboard emblazoned with the phrase ‘We Love Our Privacy’ and a link to the official campaign website – defendourprivacy.org – was paraded outside the company’s head office in Los Gatos, California.
For those unfamiliar with the reasons for Netflix’s actions, they are fairly clear-cut. As part of their efforts to become a global service, they have to win the support of rights holders, and they in turn make their money by selling the rights of their programs to the highest bidder in different countries around the world. Obviously this isn’t always Netflix, so the shows you can stream in one country are not always the same as those you can stream in another.
Neither is the price you pay for Netflix the same in different countries, and with the US service having both the largest content and one of the cheapest prices, there is little wonder that most customers wanted to pay for that service rather than the inferior one offered in their own country.
Netflix is now trying to stop them using a VPN to do this, and is systematically blocking IP Addresses it links to a VPN. This is time consuming and expensive work, not least because it costs Netflix a considerable number of fee-paying subscribers, but they have decided to make a stand and even though their efforts are far from foolproof, they have impacted users of a number of larger VPNs and also won them a large swathe of publicity, which was doubtless at least one aim of the exercise.
OpenMedia has been coordinating the fightback and recently wrote an open letter to Netflix explaining why a blanket blocking of a piece of privacy software was unfair and requesting a meeting to discuss a mutually agreeable way forward.
There has to date been no response from Netflix and during an investor call last month, their CEO Reed Hastings seemed to indicate that, for now at least they were not open to discussion.
He described VPN users as ‘a small but vocal minority’ that are “really inconsequential to us.” That may be his stance at the moment, but as the petition and the billboard show, the fight for the rights of internet users to protect their privacy and enjoy the service that Netflix provides will go on.
But for now, if you are a user of some of the big VPNs that have been blocked from Netflix, and hasn’t yet got around the problem, the best option for you is probably to seek out one of the smaller names that can offer a comparable service and still give you access to Netflix.
Here at Fried.com, our recommendation for a VPN that fits all of these criteria would be Buffered. They are a relatively new player on the VPN market, but their privacy levels and speeds match anything the best of the big boys can offer, and being based in Hungary means they can ensure you data will be kept private.
They can also still offer you access to Netflix so even if you are looking to circumvent their geo-blocking technology, there is nothing to stop you with Buffered.
If you are a Netflix user, don’t be shy about voicing your opinions to them either. This campaign against their ill-thought-through attack on online privacy is rapidly gathering momentum and every individual voice will help, whether you right to them directly, sign the petition, or spread the word on social media. The Billboard in Los Gatos is just the beginning.
After an investigation into a 'disgraced judge' in the USA, said judge was arrested after his online activity was successfully traced back to his personal IP address (and thus location/identity).
Yes, it looks like UK-based VPN provider HideMyAss has again proven that it does not offer truly great "privacy protection" to its users. Just as the VPN service did 4 years ago, it has once again shared usage logs and personal information of a paying user to authorities.
Although HideMyAss responded to their sharing of a user's data and information back in 2011 by saying that it's "naive" to think that just by using a VPN service you are free to perform illegal activities "without any consequences" -- having a consistent, high level of privacy protection is exactly the reason 99% of VPN users choose to pay and use the software in the first place.
However, we here at Fried.com personally believe that HideMyAss simply use this "high moral standpoint" because they are require to keep extensive data logs of all users due to being a UK-based company. Who's to say HMA would be as "morally" righteous if the company were not forced to abide by strict UK data retention laws?
The unfortunate user on this occasion may have had his unethical behaviour punished accordingly -- seeing as he was most definitely harassing his ex-girlfriend along with another woman he had a history with -- but this in no way justifies HideMyAss's decision to hand over data logs and sensitive information about one of its own paying users.
Either way, thankfully there are many VPN service providers that perform just as well as HideMyAss (if not better), that actually do care about giving their users as much privacy protection as possible by keeping zero-logs. Some such providers are ExpressVPN, Buffered and TotalVPN.
So if one of your primary reasons for using a VPN service is to protect your natural born right to personal privacy while surfing the world wide web, then you'd be best advised to breeze right past HideMyAss and check out the above mentioned providers that do a much better job of satisfying this important factor.
The necessity to protect your online privacy in the most sophisticated, affordable way with a VPN is only becoming more and more important and higher a priority with each new day, especially when considering the ever-increasing reports of governmental "surveillance states" and third parties monitoring your online behaviour without your knowledge.
In conclusion -- don't be like the "disgraced" judge of this story in two ways:
Irony is the lowest form of wit they say, although many would argue it is still one of the funniest. Certainly events at the Harbin Institute of Technology recently could barely have been more perfectly delicious, as the founder of the Chinese Firewall was forced to use a VPN to bypass his own creation.
In scenes that could barely have been scripted in an episode of Veep or The Thick of It, Fang Binxing, who is widely acknowledged as being the “Father of the Great Firewall,” the tool by which the Chinese Communist regime controls and monitors the internet access of the country’s 1.3 billion people, was giving a presentation at his former university.
He was speaking on the subject of internet security and needless to say was advocating the Chinese regimes stance on the importance to national security of the extensive censorship program they operate.
According to Hong Kong based site Ming Pao, as part of this presentation, Fang was trying to draw an example of South Korea as a country which he claimed used similar controls. (IN reality, the controls put in place by the South Korean government are considerably less strict than those used by the Chinese Communist Party.
In doing so, he tried to visit a South Korean website only to find his access blocked by his own Great Firewall. Evidently this site was essential to the speech and he was therefore forced to use a VPN in order to gain access to the site and continue with his speech.
The VPN was allegedly already installed onto his machine which reveals that even the creator of the Great Firewall himself uses VPN technology to allow himself the free access to the internet that his work denies so many millions of other Chinese citizens.
A VPN works by diverting users internet traffic via an encrypted pathway to an external server, often based overseas, which allows users in countries which employ such censorship to bypass it by appearing to be surfing the web from elsewhere.
They are commonly used in China where the regime employs one of the most severe internet censorship programs in the world.
Binxings experience in front of the life audience mirrored that of many Chinese netizens as his VPN link was lost on two occasions as he tried to access first Google and then Facebook, both of which are unavailable in China.
Eventually he resorted to Baidu to get a screenshot of the Google homepage and then continued, but at the end of the session he declined to take part in a scheduled Q&A session.
In recent months it has become increasingly difficult to use a VPN there as the Government makes more and more of an effort to crack down on their usage. Indeed, experts have speculated that the problems faced by Binxing are likely to stem from the expansion of the Great Firewall to block any mention of the recent ‘Panama Papers’ offshore tax revelations. This has had an impact on some consumers within China, but has also had the, presumably unintended, consequence of affecting businesses, many of whom also use the technology for very different reasons.
Nevertheless, their use remains widespread, and it was not too long before users were leaping onto social media to mock their architect of their online suppression. Users on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of twitter mocked Fang Binxing for being so dedicated to his work that he didn't leave a back-door in the system, "even for himself" and left comments like "Blocked by his own system… This is just too hilarious."
As the younger generation in China is beginning to slowly wake up to the extent that they are repressed by the Communist regime there, VPN use has grown, and the farcical scenes witnessed by many at the Harbin Institute of Technology will have added more fuel to the flames of discontent which continue to simmer under the surface there,
In the meantime, it sadly remains the case that, despite the recent Government crackdown, a VPN is still by far the most effective way for Chinese citizens to enjoy unrestricted internet access.
The Malaysian Government is the latest international regime to appear to be taking steps to strengthen their powers of online censorship.
The Islamic country, whose government already holds strong powers through its Penal Code and the Sedition Act, is currently plotting amendments to two existing pieces of legislation, the Official Secret Act (OSA) and the Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) during its upcoming parliamentary sessions, according to a report from the US-based online rights organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
According to the EFF, the Malaysian Government has blocked at least ten websites in the past nine months, including prominent online news site The Malaysian Insider, which has since been forced to shut down. The reason for this action was that they reported on a corruption scandal involving Najib tun Razak, the Malaysian Prime Minister.
He is accused of being involved in various dealings relating to more than $700 million dollars of public funds. The attack on The Malaysian Insider has been widely condemned by the international community as an act of press censorship, and the US Government has even gone so far as to release a press statement condemning the action.
However the Malaysian Government has not relented, and has continued to attack online freedom of speech, with investigations into activity such as the tweets of local activist Fahmi Reza, who drew a picture of the Prime Minister wearing clown makeup.
Now it seems, they are taking more steps down the road of state internet control.
Their Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) is already both broad and vague in scope, allowing criminal steps to be taken against any “comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”
Now amendments would make ISPs in Malaysia liable for the content being posted by their users, regardless of whether it can be proved that they were either complicit in their activity, or indeed even had knowledge of it. ISP fines would increase twenty-fold, while there would also be new web tracking requirements for them to follow, although it is not yet clear how detailed these would be. The move is clearly intended to compel the ISPs themselves to censor such content, rather than the Government have to do it for them.
For individual users, fines for such activity would double while potential prison sentences will triple. The Government will also have the power to remove any offending material which generates a complaint, and if any unwarranted complaints can be proven, the penalty for such an offence will be a mere $50.
Lastly and perhaps most ominously of all, the new amendments will make all foreign websites subject to local laws, and needless to say these are already highly restrictive. The example given by the EFF is that the Ben Still film Zoolander, which is rated as a 12 in the UK, and a PG13 in the USA, is banned completely in Malaysia.
The changes would mean the Government could legally block any number of foreign websites and effectively puts the legislation in place to allow wholescale internet censorship behind a Government firewall.
So what steps can Malaysians take to protect their online rights and ensure they retain access to as much of the internet and as many streaming services, films, and TV series as they would care to watch?
Well the most popular step would be to sign up for a VPN. By using a VPN, they can divert their internet activity via a server in a country where people have free reign to visit whatever internet site they may choose, such as the USA, UK, or Germany.
By using a VPN such as ExpressVPN, Malaysian citizens will be able to circumvent any restrictions their government do choose to put in place quickly and easily. It is a method already commonly used in countries such as China, where there are already severe restriction on what sites people can visit.
Sadly it seems as if the Malaysian government, which has been acting in an increasingly autocratic manner in recent years, appears set to go down the same censorship road, and if you are an internet user in Malaysia who values your online freedom, you would be well advised to act now and get your VPN in place before the new Government laws are approved in the coming weeks and months.
A very interesting court case currently before the Florida District Courts has resulted in the FBI testing the claim made by popular VPN provider Private Internet Access, that they do not keep any logs of their user’s activity.
As anyone familiar with VPNs will be aware, it is a common claim from many providers keen to emphasize their privacy-protecting credentials. We make reference to it quite frequently in our reviews of different VPNs, and when we do so we always do what research we can to ensure that the claim can be backed up.
It has been the case previously that some VPN providers have retained logs of one kind or another despite claiming not to though, and the case in question inadvertently probed whether this is the case with PIA.
The case is regarding a US man, Preston McWaters, who the FBI claims gave “false or misleading information regarding an explosive device”. In layman’s terms this means he is suspected of making a hoax bomb threat.
The criminal complaint, which can be read in full here, begins with claims that McWaters had been stalking a former co-worker called Devon Kenney. Then in December, there were a number of hoax bomb threats made on social media in the name of Eric Mead, who is Devon’s current boyfriend.
Mead denied making the threats so the FBI investigated and in February of this year issued to Twitter and Facebook requiring them to hand over information about ertain accounts. They complied with these warrants and the complaints states that the FBI believe that it was McWaters who was operating them.
They gathered a variety of other pieces of evidence against him, including CCTV footage of him buying a pre-paid Tracfone. They then looked for IP Address evidence against him. The complaint then states on this line of enquiry that “during the course of the investigation, [we have attempted] to identify the internet protocol (IP) address from where the email messages are being sent. All of the responses from [email provider] 1&1, Facebook, Twitter, and Tracfone have been traced by IP address back to a company named London Trust Media [doing business as] PrivateInternetAccess.com.”
Despite the fact that the FBI most likely has enough evidence to convict McWaters anyway, they subpoenaed London Trust Media for the relevant logs. The complaint continues, “the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States.”
The only other detail they handed over was that of the companies they accept payment from, although not details of individual payments. The complaint goes on to say “although the investigation has not revealed any payment by McWaters to London Trust, he did make a purchase from AnchorFree Inc [HotspotShield VPN] on October 23, 2015”.
From a VPN point of view this case highlights the level of privacy users can expect from many VPN providers, and especially PIA. It also highlighted how the relationship between VPN providers and law enforcement agencies like the FBI should operate.
It is a great credit to PIA that their ‘no logs’ claim holds up under legal scrutiny and their users will certainly sleep easier at night for knowing that.
It is also a credit to the FBI agents involved in this case, for accepting the policy of PIA and doing their job by collecting evidence from elsewhere to bring the case to court. Those agencies involved in the current dispute with Apple could certainly learn a thing or two from them.
No VPN would condone people using their service for criminal ends, but it is on occasion unavoidable. What must not happen is that they potential compromise the privacy and security of all their users to prevent the actions of just a handful. Retaining no logs is the best way to do this, and for any VPN user for whom privacy is a key reason for signing up, a no logs policy such as PIAs is well worth seeking out.
There has been an interesting development in the ongoing set-to between Apple and the US Authorities over whether or not the company should be required to hack their way into the phone of a terrorism suspect.
Regular readers will be aware of the story we reported on last week regarding the San Barnadino terrorist attacks in California. The main suspect in that case, Syed Rizwan Farook, owned an iPhone which is now in the possession of the FBI. However, they are unable to access it, and if they enter the wrong passcode more than ten consecutive times, all the data on the phone will be erased.
Last month, a Federal Judge in California ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking the phone, something which Apple has so far steadfastly refused to do, citing the privacy of its users.
Now, in a similar case in New York, another Federal Judge has ruled on the side of Apple. The Judge in question was Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in New York’s Eastern District and his ruling does not relate to the San Bernardino case, but rather an ongoing drugs case in which the FBI also has possession of the phone but cannot unlock it.
The piece of law being used in both cases is known as the All Writs Act. It dates from 1789 but has been revived in recent years to assist the authorities with gaining access to password protected gadgets.
In his ruling, Judge Orenstein has concluded that the All Writs Act cannot be used in the case of the drugs case phone. As the Washington Post reported, his 50 page ruling was disdainful of the Governments arguments and he concluded that they were overstepping the original meaning of the Act.
He said in his ruling that their interpretation of the law was “absurd” saying that they seemed to believe it could be used to authorize them to get what they want even if every member of Congress had voted against it.
He went on to say that their argument would undermine “the more general protection against tyranny that the Founders believed required the careful separation of governmental powers.”
He also found that the request would place an unreasonable burden on Apple and concluded that none of the factors in this case “justifies imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against its will.”
Needless to say, the ruling has been welcomed by privacy campaigners. Alex Abdo, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it “sends a strong message that the government can’t circumvent the national debate by trying to manufacture new authorities through the courts.”
He went on to say that, “If the court rejects the government’s request in New York, then the FBI’s request in San Bernardino is necessarily illegal, too.”
This is where things get murky though, because although this ruling has come in an almost identical case to the San Bernardino one in California, the ruling in New York is not binding there, or indeed in any other court in the USA.
Therefore, while it is possible that it may impact on the appeal Apple are currently going through in California, it by no means certain that it will, and indeed many analysts have already been quick to point out that there is no reason other courts in other cases can’t come down on the other side of the fence.
Ultimately the problem is that there is no specific law on the US statute books which can be used in cases like this. Indeed, Judge Orenstein has himself said that the case he was ruling on in New York “falls in the murkier area in which Congress is plainly aware” but has so far “failed” to legislate on.
Whilst the debate continues to rage, and the ‘push-pull’ between privacy and security continues to move one way and then the other, it is apparent that ultimately it is still down to individual Americans to take steps to ensure their own privacy when online, or using mobile devices such as iPhones.
And most experts agree that one of the most straightforward and cost effective steps you can take is to sign up for a VPN such as ExpressVPN. They allow you to browse the web completely anonymously and offer that extra level of online privacy and security which in the current climate is not something US citizens should be taking for granted.