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THE encryption wars continue. Apple is still refusing the FBI’s request to help unlock an iPhone owned by San Bernardino bomber Syed Rizwan Farook, which the agency believes holds valuable evidence. Apple argues that doing so would weaken security for all iPhone users. The power struggle looks set to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and – surreally – may depend on a contemporary interpretation of a 1789 law called the All Writs Act.

You might think that new laws are the answer, but be careful what you wish for. Apple probably wouldn’t even get a hearing if the case were taking place in the UK. The revised Investigatory Powers Bill, released this week (see “New UK Snooper’s charter still gives state wide hacking powers“), suggests that companies would be compelled to remove “electronic protections” they have applied to their users’ messages and devices.

Should the bill pass into law, it is difficult to see how Apple could refuse to cooperate. And under gagging clauses in the bill, the company would also not be able to engage in the very public debate it has started in the US.

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Encryption is hard to get worked up about. But the outcome of these fights will go a long way to decide the balance of power between governments’ desire to pry and citizens’ right to secrecy. That means you.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Those prying eyes”

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