The implications of the Apple letter

For those who haven’t noticed, there has been a bit of a blow-up regarding a dispute between the FBI and Apple Computers.

The FBI is trying to break into the iPhone of a suspected terrorist, but they can’t brute force the password because the software on that particular version of iPhone only allows 10 wrong tries before the phone becomes worthless with a delay between tries. They want to compel Apple to write a new updated version of the IOS to install on that phone that would essentially allow the FBI to make unlimited tries at speed (i.e., by hooking up another computer) and eventually brute force the password in order to get in. A judge has agreed, and Apple is resisting the order.

Here is the letter from Tim Cook of Apple explaining their position. As he points out, the issue is that once Apple does this, what’s to prevent the exploit from being compromised and used in nefarious ways?

Additionally, what would prevent law enforcement from seeing this as a new tool to use over and over again?

We know that would happen.

Remember the Patriot Act? One of the provisions was normalizing the “sneak and peek” provision to protect us from terrorists,(this allows them to break into your home surreptitiously and not inform you even after the fact, so you can’t challenge the warrant because you don’t know it happened – they can also take things by pretending it’s a burglary). Again, we were told this was critical to protect us from terrorists. So what happened? According to the most recent figures in 2013, that year there were 11,129 “sneak and peek” warrant requests, and only 51 of those were for terrorism-related investigations.

Can you guess what the majority of requests were for? Of course — drug investigations. Even misdemeanors.

Regardless of how evil the person is that the FBI is investigating, in a free society we cannot use that as justification for giving unlimited power to investigating entities.

Now, of course, as with any technology issue, there are a lot of complicating factors to this case, but the overall facts are pretty clear. The FBI wants to compel a software company to not just give access to information that they already have, but to help them break the security of their software, with the “promise” that they’ll only do it once. And I don’t accept that.

I’ve been interested to see where the Presidential candidates come down on this issue. A number of different media sources have been tracking candidate responses. Here’s one. Here’s another.

Trump immediately sided 100% with the FBI. Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich have basically said that they understood the concerns but still sided with the FBI. Neither Clinton or Sanders took a firm position either way.

“Obviously Apple and the other tech companies are concerned about this,” Ms. Clinton said. “But as smart as we are, there’s got to be some way on a very specific basis we could try to help get information around crimes and terrorism.

Clinton’s opponent also did not choose between Apple and the FBI. “I’m on both,” Mr. Sanders said, when asked which side he favored. “But count me in as somebody who is a very strong civil libertarian, who believes that we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”

Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson: “#Apple is RIGHT. Handing the govt a potential passkey to millions of phones would be lunacy.”

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