Edward Snowden is a contentious figure. To some he’s a hero, to others he’s a traitor. Since leaking of thousands of classified intelligence documents in 2013 the former NSA contractor has been living at an undisclosed location in Russia, where the leaks continue to seep out.
While many people seem to have become acclimated to the levels the NSA and GCHQ can apparently peer into our lives, the latest allegation from Snowden might make those of us who use iPhones a bit nervous –– if Snowden is to be believed.
Speaking to Russia’s RIA Novosti, Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena revealed that Snowden uses “a simple phone” because of the access Snowden knows governments have to the iPhone.
“Edward never uses an iPhone, he’s got a simple phone,” Kucherena told RIA Novosti. “The iPhone has special software that can activate itself without the owner, having to press a button and gather information about him, that’s why on security grounds he refused to have this phone.”
Kucherena didn’t elaborate on the type of software that supposedly enables this eavesdropping, nor did he say if governments have worked with Apple to build this software into iOS or if this is software the government is able to install on a user’s iPhone, should they choose to do so.
Allegations that the major tech companies are in league with government intelligence agencies are nothing new, and these latest allegations from Snowden, provided he can’t show absolute proof of his claims, will only confirm what conspiracy theorists want to believe or be shrugged off by people who choose to believe their governments aren’t going to such extreme measures.
“I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” Cook wrote. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will. Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers. We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.”
Cook also addressed Apple users’ privacy concerns in a televised interview in America last year. Speaking to US broadcaster Charlie Rose, Cook said “We try not to collect data. We are not reading your email, we are not reading your iMessage. It is encrypted, there is no key.”
Cook also criticised other companies that rely on collecting and selling user data.
“We run a very different company. Companies should be very transparent... From our point of view, you can see what we're doing on the credit card thing. We’re not in that business. I'm offended by lots of it... I think people should have a right to privacy.. We want to be totally transparent.”
Cook went on to say that there was "zero" truth in claims that Apple built in backdoors into any of its hardware or software.
Still, just because Cook is assuring users Apple isn’t cooperating with spy agencies doesn’t mean those agencies aren’t working to infiltrate iPhones. After all, it was recently revealed that GCHQ used Apple’s UDID system to track users’ iPhones.
As for Snowden’s latest allegation there’s probably no way to know if it’s true intelligence agencies can activate a user’s iPhone without their permission or if Snowden is, understandably, a little cautious.