Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apple vs. FBI

It is very complicated. But we have to get this one right.
I am a loyal fan and consumer of Apple products. For a while I had a independent contractor relationship with Apple and think they are ahead of the curve in most areas of technology. So it is not surprising that I would stand with Tim Cook in his refusal to create a back door into the iPhone. This places me in the minority of public opinion of most people believing that Apple should comply with the request of the FBI.  The one thing I am certain of, as a friend of mine said yesterday, "In a fight between the government and Tim Cook,  I believe Tim Cook is the smartest guy in the room." 

There are a few things that make this case different from the usual "search warrant" the government uses to negate your right to privacy.  It is a slippery slope and a Pandora's box if opened.  Once again the "government" is using fear of the unknown enemy to compromise our rights. The influence I have over this debate is non-existent, it won't matter which party or candidate I support because this is not an issue anyone gets to vote on.  I am simply an observer watching.  As futile as the process is I would feel worse if I kept it to myself. 

First, there is no back door to an iPhone. Apple is being asked to invent something that doesn't exist. The government is assuming that Apple programmers are so good that they can just write a few lines of code in a couple of days that will open up an iPhone. (For 30 years they have been writing Apple code to prevent that very thing from happening.)  If it were that easy to do, then the terrorist hackers would already have done it.  So, what if they can't do it? What if Apple tries its best but there is just no way to accomplish that task?  Will the government send the entire company to jail for contempt?
Of course the FBI is demanding this be done on the huge assumption that there is "something" inside that phone that is useful. This is not a game of Clue and the iPhone the black envelope, there is no surety that anything but cat photos exists inside that phone.  Remember it was the FBI who spent thousands of dollars and many days searching a lake for the terrorist's hard drive that they "assumed" was dumped there. After all that time and money, the hard drive wasn't there. 
But this is not as benign as the useless search of a lake. The FBI director says (in a tweet), that it was only this phone that they are asking unlocked (with a  key that doesn't exist by a door that isn't there).This key would only be used once? That secret will be safe? Look how well we were able to protect the secret of nuclear weapons from the wrong hands. He is either naive, stupid or trying to deceive us.  Once that door is built and a key made, anyone can use it at anytime on any iPhone anywhere for any reason.  There is only a question of who would use that back door quicker, the corporate advertisers or the fanatical terrorists. 

Let's assume this iPhone had been completely destroyed, and the terrorist captured alive. We could assume there must be some helpful information that the FBI would want locked inside this terrorist's head. So how do we get to it? What is the code, the hack, the backdoor to his brain that we can use to get at that information.  There is none.  That has never stopped governmental over reach. We now know that our own government has used torture and "enhanced" interrogation techniques in the past to try to open that back door into a terrorist's mind.  It was a dismal failure and created more harm than information.

Here is the bottom line. The smart phone is not simply a communication device. As we use it more and more, it becomes "hard storage" for our minds.  I don't even have my Mom's phone number in my brain anymore, my iPhone stores it for me... I just tap her picture when I want to phone her. My personal iPhone has bank account numbers, credit card numbers, personal thoughts, personal communications and a lot of other stuff that used to exist only in my brain.  There is no question that America places great value on the private personal thoughts and feelings of every individual. Sure it would give us all more safety if the government could "hack into" a serial killers brain and arrest him before he commits a crime. Why not ask Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline or Abbot Labs to create a pill or an implant that gives the FBI the ability to see what's inside some one's mind? They only want to use it for "one person" they think might do something dangerous.  They are not asking to "unlock" every one's mind. After all it is only going to be used to keep us safer.  For this little bit of safety we give up all the privacy of personal thoughts in our mind.  Being able to think any thoughts I want to in the privacy of my own mind is human freedom and transcends any creed, religion, government or philosophy.   
This may sound like a stretch, but in a world that grows with exponential technology making Apple create a back door and magic key to a personal iPhone is the first step in taking away that very human Freedom.  
As you were,

1 comment:

P. Grecian said...

I agree, Jay. If they're so anxious to get into that ONE particular phone, let 'em turn it over to Apple and, if Apple is so inclined, and can do it, let them get it opened and give the info they find in that ONE phone to the FBI and then swallow the key.
Or not.
As for the FBI being pure of heart...I knew a guy back in the '70's who was in the antiwar movement. He fled to Canada. The FBI really wanted him. They couldn't reach him. Then one day he came back across the border to see his parents and the FBI nabbed him. He got away. He visited me and a couple of other people and then slipped back across the border.
I only knew him as a fellow theatre person.
And the FBI should have known that, at least.
But for two years afterward, they opened my mail and tapped my phone.
And they were so bad at it that I, a kid in his twenties, KNEW they were doing it.
They hung out down the street in black vans with smoked windows.
Letters were badly resealed with mucilage or rubber cement.
Odd clicks and echoes on the phone.
So I started sending letters to myself with messages like: "The FBI should be better at fooling me when they open my mail" and "Aren't you guys ashamed of yourself for not being any better at your spying job than this?"
Every night before we went to bed, I'd pick up the phone and say, "We're going to bed now, you guys can take a nap or go down to the Kwik Shop for a Coke or somethin'."

After awhile, they gave up.
But a few years later, we had a reunion of KU Theatre people, and the department head came up to me and said, "Hey, when Steve was in the US a few years ago and visited you...did they tap your phone and open your mail?"
"Mine too!"
They just aren't that smart...and I don't think they can be trusted with a key to iPhones.
Or brains.