Apple and the FBI

In an open letter on Apple’s website, Tim Cook writes in response to the FBI’s demands for Apple to force unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters from last year’s San Bernardino shooting:

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

…While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Apple is on the right side here. As I’ve previously written, the notion that tech companies can make secure back doors that are only accessible to the “good guys” is nonsensical. Should Apple be forced to create a back door for the FBI, don’t be surprised if intelligence agencies in China (Apple’s fastest growing market) reasonably make the same access a requirement. Then expect to see these back doors exploited by non-state criminal actors, making us all less secure.

Rights to privacy should be the bottom line here, but since government officials and politicians don’t care about privacy until they are targeted themselves, the security risks of compromising encryption must be demonstrated forcefully. I expect security officials to whine like children that Apple is standing in their way. Apple’s business interests conveniently line up with their stance, but it doesn’t make it less right. I hope to see more tech companies, organizations, politicians, and ordinary citizens have the courage to stand with them.1


  1. It would be nice if an understanding of privacy and surveillance issues was more pervasive, as an election year is a good time for making public mandates on issues like this. Unfortunately anti-surveillance attitudes are seen as outliers among politicians and mainstream presidential candidates do not embrace them. I expect if any current Republican candidate (Rand Paul was the only exception here and he’s dropped out) or Hillary Clinton wins the presidency we will see no pushback on surveillance abuses from within the executive branch. Bernie Sanders has spoken out harshly against NSA spying, but he is not seen as mainstream in his views and should he lose, anti-surveillance sentiment will unfortunately continue to be seen as a fringe attitude. This may be an issue where we simply have to make life difficult for the NSA while we let age take care of the political end of the problem. ↩︎