British Prime Minister Theresa May has reportedly banned the Apple Watch 2 and original Apple Watch from being worn to U.K. government cabinet meetings. According to information obtained by the Telegraph, the government is concerned that the microphone in Apple’s latest smartwatch could be used as a listening device by Russian hackers to spy on classified discussions of the country’s cabinet. Mobile phones have already been banned from cabinet meetings over similar fears.
Since the original Apple Watch was released in early 2015, a number of U.K. cabinet members started wearing the watches under David Cameron. One noticeable early adopter was then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove. However, new Prime Minister Theresa May has reportedly completely banned Apple Watches and other smartwatches from being worn in cabinet meetings, following concerns that increasingly savvy Russian hackers could take advantage of the devices, with one source saying, “The Russians are trying to hack everything.”
The move isn’t all that much of a surprise, however. As aforementioned, mobile phones are already banned from cabinet meetings in the U.K., so it’s only logical that the rule is extended to smartwatches, considering they contain the same basic electronics and could be just as vulnerable to hacking and spying as other devices.
— The Verge (@verge) October 10, 2016
There’s currently a good deal of paranoia amongst western governments that Russian hackers are gaining access to sensitive information. According to the Verge, the U.S. government is now officially blaming Russia for a recent hack on the Democratic National Committee. The Director of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security have both officially blamed Russia for stealing and publishing archived emails from the Democratic National Committee this summer, with a number of those emails appearing on WikiLeaks.
In a joint statement, the directors condemned Russia, saying, “The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorised these activities.”
That statement has understandably sparked considerable concern amongst other western governments.
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British politicians are always keen in adopting the latest technologies. Mr. Gove disrupted a cabinet meeting last year by inadvertently playing a Beyonce song using his Apple watch. His wife and journalist Sarah Vine later claimed that Gove was checking his emails before accidentally playing the first few bars of a Beyonce track. The news undeniably caused a lot of satirical coverage in the United Kingdom. Gove later lost his cabinet position as part of new Prime Minister Theresa May’s reshuffle.
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The U.K. government isn’t alone in banning Apple Watches from cabinet meetings, though. It’s also come to light that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has banned his cabinet from wearing the Apple Watch during meetings of the country’s cabinet, following advice from a security advisor.
An advisor to Turnbull told Fairfax Media that with an increasing number of devices offering internet connectivity – from glasses to running shoes – more attention needs to be paid to communications security, saying, “In a world in which it is necessary for government to have conversations that truly have no electronics in the room, there are going to be more and more items that will have to be locked away in cabinets.” Will the next U.S. president follow the U.K. and Australian prime ministers in banning the Apple Watch from cabinet meetings?
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