Why Apple’s stance against government matters

posted at 4:01 pm on February 18, 2016 by Taylor Millard

There’s a lot of reaction to the Apple vs. the FBI face off over whether the computer giant should allow the feds into the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone. Public opinion in San Bernardino appears to be in favor of the FBI, and Donald Trump rhetorically asked, “Who do they think they are?” when criticizing Apple for not bowing to the wishes of the government. Most of the support appears to be along the lines of “hey, we could catch bad guys,” as Jazz opined yesterday. I completely understand where those who want Apple to go along with the FBI are coming from. The problem is this argument of “Oh, it’s just one phone,” sounds very similar to, “Oh, it’s just one dollar; my boss won’t realize it’s gone,” or, “Oh, it’s just one piece of candy; I can leave the rest alone.” The temptation to keep going back to the well to glean more and more information about individuals is scary. This is why Apple’s stance of defending individual privacy over national security is so important.

The crux of the federal government’s argument is that it needs access to the iPhone so bad, it’s willing to trample on the 4th Amendment to get access to it. Prosecutors are acting like some spoiled child who cannot believe when his/her parents won’t given them what they want (via NBC News).

“Despite … a warrant authorizing the search, the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.”

This statement attempts to make Apple out to be the bad guy because it seems like the company won’t help the government in fighting terrorism. But this goes against what Apple CEO Tim Cook told customers in a letter posted on Apple.com.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

This is a key point because Apple is helping the government, they just won’t open up the Pandora’s Box of a true backdoor. It doesn’t matter if it could take only a few minutes, as one security expert told USA Today, Apple (and Cook) don’t even want to entertain the idea because of the potential consequences.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Here’s something those on the Right are forgetting: this is the same government which had no problem with the IRS auditing Tea Party groups and their donors, and tried to prosecute a reporter in a leak investigation. It’s also the same government which had the DHS focus on “right-wing sovereign citizens,” considers terrorism “damage to Government property” (without giving a specific definition of what “damage” means), and doesn’t care about actual facts when it comes to putting people on terrorist watch lists. It seems odd to me that those complaining about the IRS and tyranny of the current administration are perfectly fine with the fact the FBI is trying to get a backdoor created to get into “just one phone.” If the IRS/NSA/DHS aren’t to be trusted, why in the world would you trust the FBI? The government seeks power over its citizens, and this is just another way for them to get it (even if it’s through proper channels).

Think about it this way: if Apple caves on the government’s demand to provide a backdoor for “just one phone,” what’s stopping the government from coming to Apple again and say, “Just give us the backdoor permanently and we won’t bug you again”? What’s to stop them from going to Samsung or HTC or every other phone maker out there and demanding this same thing? That’s freaking scary. This isn’t blurring the line between freedom and tyranny, it’s erasing it completely. This is why no conservative or libertarian leaning person should support what the government is pushing Apple to do.


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