Apple VS FBI

Apple gets a lot of flak in the InfoSec community, even though it’s an open secret that much of the InfoSec community has begun to use Apple products. I myself have been using a Mac laptop for the past ten years because they produced the first laptop I thought was worth spending money on. A lot of money.

I’m a fan of Apple for more than just their products, however. I admire their stance on social issues that I care about.

In February 2016, a lot of press was made about the FBI wanting Apple to develop a backdoor for the iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernadino terrorists. The FBI claimed it had no recourse to access data on the device during the course of the investigation and demanded that Apple develop a backdoor to allow them to access the device. Apple released a letter to the general public to give their side of events and explain why they were resisting the FBI’s request.

The letter was a gentle, yet firm, statement expressing Apple’s sympathies for the victims of the San Bernadino terror attack, but reluctance to set a dangerous precedent about what power the Federal Government, specifically the FBI, could impose on private American companies. There was much public backlash over this stance by people who didn’t understand the stakes. There were boycotts of Apple products, and even a Flordia sheriff who proclaimed he would arrest Tim Cook for failing to help in the FBI’s investigation.

I believe this public backlash was the wrong, if predictable, course of action to take. Logic abandons us in times of extreme emotion, which leads to hasty choices being made without concern for their long-lasting effects. For as long as I can recall, the threat of, or occurrence of, terror attacks has been the catalyst for hastily-passed legislation amid the outcry of the population for action.

Of course, the San Bernadino attacks were a terrible occurrence, but there were many who leapt immediately to the emotional response of “take any action necessary” to help the FBI. In this case, the action was to attack the cryptography that protects communications on iPhone devices.

Many technologists, privacy advocates, and anti-authoritarians disagreed with the FBI’s issuing of a warrant. Many proponents of the FBI’s request claimed “what harm could there possibly be if Apple created only one FBiOS for this one device?”

What the FBI supporters failed to understand in this affair was the dangerous precedent that would be set if Apple were kowtowed to the FBI. Law enforcement agencies would surely jump on the bandwagon, asking Apple, and other vendors, to create backdoors in their products to help “catch the bad guys”. This slippery slope would surely lead to the death of encrypted - and therefore private - communications. Some may be fine with that reality, but I am not.

And, I have nothing to hide. I do, however, desire some modicum of privacy. In Edward Snowden’s words:

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

I think it’s important to be able to separate emotional reactions and arguments from logical reactions and arguments when parsing news stories. This case clearly had many emotional ties to it, but the logical response to the demands made by the authorities should be evaluated on a personal and societal level. The expanding of the FBIs power and the weakening of the protections built into consumer electronics is yet another step toward enforcing a police state in the USA as a result of terrorism.

The following are some well-written articles (some opinionated, though I agree with the authors’ opinions) on the Apple vs FBI topic from the first quarter of 2016: