This week has been awash in coverage of a federal court ordering Apple to unlock an iPhone 5c used in the San Bernardino shooting. This story began for me when I awoke Tuesday at 5 a.m. EST to half a dozen text messages linking me to Tim Cook’s “A Message to Our Customers.” I have had almost a week to digest the letter, follow the story, and reach some conclusions. My thoughts and observations on the “Apple vs. FBI” debate are listed below.
- The FBI has chosen to use this issue to paint encryption in an unfavorable light. This single issue has advanced the government’s position that encryption is a tool for terrorists and criminals. James Comey (the Director of the FBI) has long been an outspoken advocate for encryption “backdoors” and “front doors” but until now has had few concrete examples to sell the public on such mechanisms. This is the chance they have been waiting for.
- There is probably very little to find on the phone in the first place. I talked about why I believe this a couple weeks ago on a podcast interview. I talked about why I believe this which basically boils down to: there isn’t much to find on the phone that can’t be gotten elsewhere. Jonathon Zdziarski posted an even more thoughtful list of reasons this device probably doesn’t contain anything of real intelligence value.
- This is an opportunity for the FBI to put Apple in the unenviable position of looking unreasonable and uncooperative. It’s just one phone, and they were terrorists, after all. The problem is, as Apple points out, is that it creates a dangerous precedent. We have consistently seen mission creep with other laws and technologies that were designed for use in very isolated instances but have been used to pursue an increasing number of lesser crimes.
- The FBI is essentially conscripting Apple software engineers to write code for the government’s use. This should be alarming to any business owner. If the federal government can compel a company like Apple to write code (or do any work, really) without pay and against its objections, it can do so to anyone. Apple, it should be pointed out, was only recently overtaken by Google as the world’s most valuable brand.
- Apple has its own set of motivations for defying the judge’s order to open the device. This has been pointed out vociferously. My own opinion is that regardless of why Apple is taking a pro-privacy stance, they are. The market wants privacy, and Apple fills the void. Apple is not a non-profit, not a humanitarian or philanthropic organization, and it is not the EFF. Very few for-profit companies are filling this void, so my money will go to the one who is.
- An interesting article arose out of this controversy that backs up my call for longer, stronger passcodes on your iOS devices.
- Encryption works.
This has certainly been an interesting week, and there are certainly more to come.