Some Thoughts on the Apple–FBI Debate

When it comes to digital privacy, this case could prove seminal for issues down the road.


The case of Apple vs. FBI is a complicated one, but Anthony tries to highlight some key concerns for privacy.

I write this column under the "opinion" banner, although I try not to throw my opinions around too much. As a journalist, I prefer to leave it to the experts I interview to express their opinions.

When it comes to the Apple–FBI case surrounding a phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists, I have many opinions—some rational, some stupid, and probably some ignorant. And I am happy to express those opinions to my friends over a few beers at the White Horse Tavern on Bridge Street (not the famous White Horse Tavern ... the other one).

So I'll provide some thoughts that will hopefully offer some clarity or food for thought. I'm not asking you to agree with everything I say; the important takeaway is that no matter what your opinions on the Apple–FBI case, digital privacy will become one of the most important issues facing Americans in the future. Given the upcoming US presidential election, it would be good if we elect people who share our feelings about digital privacy.

Our full breakdown of the case can be found here, but in a nutshell, the FBI recovered one of the terrorist's work-issued Apple iPhones and they would like a way to get around the encryption without accidentally erasing all the information behind that security layer.

In order to do this, Apple would have to build a "backdoor" that can provide custom access to the phone's data. The FBI says this is only a one-time event, for this specific phone; they are not asking Apple to build a permanent key into all iPhones in order to get around its encryption. The agency says that it needs this help because as humans create more complex technologies, they will need assistance in monitoring for terrorist activities and making sure that there aren't terror cells planning an attack on US soil.

Apple says this would create a dangerous precedent. This type of tool doesn't exist and it would have to be built. It would have the potential to unlock any iPhone. Even if the FBI plans to only use it in this one case, there's no guarantee to that and this ruling could be applied to future cases ... again, precedent.

And it should be noted that The Wall Street Journal found that there are at least about a dozen other cases where the Justice Department is pursuing similar court orders to force Apple to help investigators extract data from iPhones. According to the story, none of those cases involve terrorism.

Slippery Slope

This is a complicated issue; there's no doubt about that. Bill Gates sides with the government while most other CEOs of tech giants are siding with Apple. The American public seems to be on the side of the government.

I reserve the right to change my opinion based on more information, but I am in Apple's corner, on this one.

I do want to know what other data is on that phone, but I don't want to do it at the possible expense of freedom. I know it's an incredibly tough job to police our borders, but there have to be limitations in what the government can do in order to protect the citizenry.

I hate the idea of a government agency coming in and telling a business that they HAVE to assist in building a tool that could potentially weaken the security defenses of a product.

I do recognize that we have to give up some privacy in order to better protect our homeland, but I'm also not prepared to just hand over the (cyber) keys to the government in order to accomplish that.

I know that we like to say that this tool will never fall into the hands of malicious hackers, but to say that there are never leaks is naïve.

This doesn't mean that I mistrust the government—for me, that's not the case—it just means that I have no idea what this could mean for future and that concerns me greatly. My biggest concern is that this tool could fall into the wrong hands.

And regardless of what you think of Edward Snowden, at least CONSIDER what he is saying here:

And I know this is a slippery slope argument, which I usually hate, but they're not always wrong.

I Could Be Wrong, Just Tell Me

Again, the government is asking Apple to build a backdoor around its encryption. Once it's created, there's no un-creating it. If you disagree with me, let me know. I like to listen to smart people discuss complex topics. That's why I'm in this racket. If you want to chat, shoot me an email: [email protected]

I hope you haven't minded this more serious discussion. We'll be back to our regular banter next week.

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