The Real Stakes of Apple’s Fight With the FBI-ACLU
I can’t easily state how important it is for Apple to prevail. Enough with the idea that if it’s terror anything goes. That’s how we got waterboarding. Abu Ghraib. The Patriot Act. The due process free no fly list. PRISM. Stingray boxes, Dirtboxes, warrantless GPS. I say not.
Where does it end? Shall the FBI compel Apple to go into the service of the government against it’s will and to the detriment of not just Apple but the whole cloud /cell as personal computer business model?
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First, the government’s legal theory is unbounded and dangerous. The government believes it has the legal authority to force Apple into government service, even though the company does not actually possess the information the government is after. Of course, historically, the government has sought and obtained assistance from tech companies and others in criminal investigations—but only in obtaining information or evidence the companies already have access to.
The difference between those cases and Apple’s is a radical one. If Apple and other tech companies—whose devices we all rely upon to store incredibly private information—can be forced to hack into their customers’ devices, then it’s hard to imagine how any company could actually offer its consumers a secure product. And once a company has been forced to build a backdoor into its products, there’s no way to ensure that it’s only used by our government, as opposed to repressive regimes, cybercriminals or industrial spies.
Second, this debate is not about one phone—it’s about every phone. And it’s about every device manufactured by a U.S. company. If the government gets its way, then every device—your mobile phone, tablet or laptop—will carry with it an implicit warning from its manufacturer: “Sorry, but we might be forced to hack you.”
Some might accept that risk if it were possible to limit access to legitimate governmental purposes, overseen by a judge. But as Apple’s Cook points out, backdoors are uniquely dangerous: “Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”