EU State Mobile Surveillance

Your mobile privacy removed – Could this happen?

Thursday 30 April, 2020

When most people purchase a smartphone or other mobile device they expect a good level of mobile security and privacy over their personal data. This will include their location and travel habits.

However, others are thinking this is not a ‘right’ they can have during the coronavirus pandemic, as track and trace forms a huge part of their governments’ response.

So, what’s happened to mobile privacy?

France, and more recently Germany, have called upon many of the technology giants to remove a hurdle that prevents them from using and storing data to help track people’s movements. This is a move that has been backed by the EU more generally. The EU has aligned their view with that of France and believe a more centralised approach to tracking and data storage, is the only way for it to be effective.

Naturally, the governments don’t believe this is an infringement on individuals’ privacy rights.

Apple’s Bluetooth technology prevents a track and trace app from continuously running background checks and stops any data being sent off the mobile device to be stored elsewhere.

There are obvious personal and mobile security and privacy issues that stem from storing vast amounts of data on a third-party server. Not least of which is the exceedingly tempting target the servers will pose for a determined hacker looking to make money from all that information.

Then there are the hackers themselves taking advantage of the security gap and using the same technology to steal as much personal information as they can, including images, texts, emails or even your mobile banking details.

It is also worth noting that, there have been other contact tracing apps released recently in other parts of the world that have successfully managed to overcome this iOS issue, therefore casting further doubt over the real reasons the EU are pushing for this privacy feature to be removed.

As a way of defence, France and EU have stated that the app will be purely optional and they will not enforce its universal use. They have also stated that, once the pandemic has been brought under control and the travel / contact restrictions have been removed, the app and its data will be dismantled.

Are there any advocates for increased state surveillance?

As with all arguments, there are those that take the opposite view. In this case, there are those that believe an increase in more intrusive state surveillance would be an acceptable price to pay in the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent report published by a UK based think tank, The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, argued that it was potentially the best option currently available to governments.

They argue that, given the potential three options of; a shattered economy, a health service completely unable to cope with a huge influx of patients and the use of state surveillance technology to track-trace-contact potential Covid19 patients, the technology route is likely to be the best contender.

However, they do recommend trying to preserve the security and privacy of users as much as is possible and, in order to maintain trust between the users and the state, the apps should only be opt-in rather than a compulsory download.

What could be next for mobile privacy and security?

Despite the EU and French authorities saying that the app would no longer be used once the pandemic is over, many feel that this will simply not be the case.

A large number of cyber privacy experts from around the world have already voiced their concerns. Approximately 300, so far, have warned that this move by the EU could pave the way for a more invasive state surveillance programme. This would prove to be a highly contentious move in the eyes of many in the EU community.

With the possibility of closer State monitoring, it’s not hard to see how trust between society and the State could be seriously eroded with this type of closer surveillance.

It again raises the questions as to whether manufacturers will be requested to ensure that a “backdoor” is built into any future OS. We have written about this subject before in our article entitled Mobile phone encryption back in the news.

It is also worth noting that there are divisions across the EU as to which technology-based solution is the best one to use. With France and Germany in one camp, Switzerland, Austria and Estonia in another, and the UK again in an entirely different camp, there seems little cohesion across the EU as a whole. This will make a successful outcome all the harder when international boarders are finally reopened.

It is for precisely these security and privacy issues that the Blackphone Privy has been developed with cyber security at its heart. We believe that smartphone privacy and security should be available to everyone who needs it.

Our approach to smartphone security means that no matter what, your privacy and data security is protected.

If you would like to discus your mobile security and privacy requirements in more detail, whether it is for business or personal usage, please get in touch. We will be happy to help.

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