Two thirds of IT pros oppose government surveillance and back Apple over the FBI

Almost two-thirds of IT and security professionals believe they can’t have private conversation on any device because of government surveillance, according to new research.

In a study of 1,500 IT and security pros, commissioned by AlienVault, only 34% said the government should be allowed to monitor mass communications for national security purposes.

This is in stark contrast to the wider public, 60% of whom support it – a difference of opinion that could relate to how deeply people understand the wider implications of such losses to privacy.

>See also: 40 years on from the birth of Apple, how well have its security practises aged?

When asked what those implications could be, 58% of survey respondents said mass surveillance could lead to governments prosecuting people based on their private conversations, and 48% said people will stop trusting businesses as a result.

“Those in the IT and security industries are uniquely positioned to comment on privacy because they understand the tools and processes that are frequently used to circumnavigate security protocols,” said Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault. “We often find that the same vulnerabilities used by intelligence agencies to spy on global citizens can also be exploited by criminals to steal your passwords.

“This gives them a unique perspective on privacy debates and explains why they often have quite different views when compared to the general public.”

When asked what they thought were the most effective ways to protect personal privacy online, 64% of respondents said they wanted to see stronger encryption being made available.

Almost half (49%) advised people should not communicate sensitive information online at all, while others (30%) recommended anonymous tools like TOR for protection.

Only a third of respondents (34%) cited tougher privacy legislation as a viable means of protecting privacy, suggesting skepticism among IT professionals about how widely privacy legislation is actually being adhered to.

The Apple versus FBI debate

The study also offers a unique perspective into the ongoing debate between Apple and the FBI over access to the iPhone belonging to the San Bernadino shooter.

Two-thirds of those surveyed (63%) supported Apple and did not believe the company should comply with the FBI by unlocking the phone. In a recent survey among the US public, just 38% of American citizens supported this view.

Most respondents also believed that there is more to the Apple-FBI debate than meets the eye. More than half (51%) said the FBI is really using the case to set a new legal precedent that allows them to unlock all devices made by Apple and other tech companies in the future.

Only a third said if Apple complies with the FBI’s demands, it would help law enforcement catch criminals before it’s too late. And almost double that number (61%) said Apple compliance would weaken its product security overall.

However, respondents also expressed mistrust about the wider motives of companies, such as Apple, that discuss privacy issues in the media.

Almost half (45%) said companies that engage in public discussions on this issue are trying to generate PR by jumping into these debates, or to protect their brand identity by being seen to be a responsible and ethical vendor (45%).

“We are clearly at a turning point in the history of internet surveillance and suspicions among those in the know are running high,” said Malik. “IT and security professionals can see straight through the public arguments being made about the Apple case.

“Many seem to view it as a power grab by the FBI, and an attempt to gain significant new powers that could undermine the communications infrastructure used by us all.

“But whatever the underlying motives may be, the outcome of this case will clearly have broader implications on future government attempts to access encrypted information, and the development of legal frameworks for state surveillance powers, such as the Investigatory Powers Bill in the UK.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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