But the current question does not involve criminals, or even criminal suspects; it involves ordinary Apple customers. And that’s why I’m suspicious of Holder et al. and their sky-is-falling chorus. Serious criminals have been doing this stuff forever; what’s got the attorney general and the FBI upset is the prospect that the rest of us — who are not criminals, for the most part — are starting to protect ourselves, too. The editors of the Washington Post, perfectly expressing D.C. officialdom’s conception of itself as an anointed caste, demanded the creation of a “golden key” that would give the right people — you know who they are — the ability to override whatever security measures the rest of us peons might be deploying, subject to the oversight of the proper authorities, of course, presumably including the fine chaps at Lois Lerner’s IRS and Eric Holder’s DOJ. Some bad news for the Washington Post, the rest of the federal clerisy, and the DOJ: You don’t get a golden key. You are not special. You are not in charge. We are in charge, and we’re having second thoughts about trusting you, just now. And until you give us a good reason to change our minds, we’re keeping our private information under wraps.
The response to this, of course, will be John J. Escalante and others shouting “pedophiles!” That is intellectually dishonest. It is the act of making encryption accessible to the general public that has caused this alarm, not having made it available to serious criminals. The latter always have been, and always will be, in the technological avant-garde. Perhaps Escalante could stretch his imagination, or just poke his head outside his office, and come up with a few hundred other reasons that ordinary people might not wish for his department to possess a “golden key” to their personal communications. His department, after all, has been known to fight quite energetically in the cause of privacy — for its own officers, as when it battled the release of the names of the 662 Chicago police officers who each had more than ten misconduct complaints to their names. Hundreds of Chicago police officers have been convicted of serious crimes, and Illinois governors practically have their own prison wing — shouting about pedophilia does not make them magically trustworthy.