Just a few days ago I began thinking about a potential new editorial piece I was going to post here. The title was going to be something along the lines of “Intelligence Has Become a Partisan Issue.” Most people would immediately think “Yeah, my party is the smart one!” But for some (likely very few) of my readers, you’d be wrong. The post was to involve several issues, of which a certain political ideology had completely abandoned free thought, the scientific method, or trust in science, instead believing in either the almighty dollar or their personal faith. This is the ideology that denies global warming (against the beliefs of at least 97% of scientists). It’s the ideology that claims there’s something wrong about LGBT people and they need to be “fixed” (against the beliefs of any psychological professional). It’s the ideology that ignores facts in cases against organizations like Planned Parenthood. It’s the ideology that has sided against Apple in its battle with the FBI, against the advice of technology professionals (such as myself, and the professionals that are well out of my league, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Eddie Cue, Steve Wozniak, and many more). If you haven’t guessed, this is the conservative ideology. Now, obviously there are many conservatives that do not have outdated or unscientific beliefs on these matters. There are many conservatives who haven’t made decisions based on campaign contributions. However, it is more common on the Conservative side of the fence to believe that global warming isn’t real, and, unfortunately, that Apple should be forced to comply with the FBI. I’d like to blame Republicans exclusively, but a number of Libertarians have also forgotten what personal freedom and responsibility is, and have sided with the stubborn Republicans on the matter.
I was ready to state that there wasn’t a single high profile Republican that had chosen sense over cents, fact over faith, or freedom over faux security. However, one senator gave me hope, Lindsey Graham. Not a lot of hope, as he still stands against women’s rights and LGBT rights, but some hope, because after meeting with technology professionals at Intel, he changed his stance, from being very assertive against encryption on consumer devices, in the interest of allowing the government to spy on anyone, to being in favor of encryption and Apple’s side of the battle. While his stances on many other issues should be seriously condemned, his newfound ability to take in information and change his stance based on that new information is what we should see from all politicians. All politicians should be willing to grow and evolve. Even President Barack Obama could learn a thing (just one) from Lindsey Graham, as Obama still stands against consumer level encryption, which would leave billions of people without personal security. Obama and Graham together prove that this doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. Obama is on the side that stands against freedom of speech and personal security, and Graham has come out in favor of these rights. Despite being the most forward thinking president on social issues and technology, Obama has thrown his lot in with the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes of the country, siding against Apple. He’s another reason why I couldn’t criticize conservatives exclusively, because when it comes to this issue, a liberal is on the side of ignorance. Make no mistake, to side against Apple in this matter is ignorant, and someone with the technical advisors that Obama has employed has no excuse to remain so ignorant.
I had a friend contact me a while back about potential presidential candidates. He’s a moderate, but leans conservative on a number of issues. He asked me what I thought about Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. Fortunately, my buddy is in favor of both women’s and LGBT rights (it’s hard to be friends with a girl like me without those stances). When I informed him of Graham’s awful record on both matters, he kept looking. However, Lindsey’s recent showing of understanding and the ability to switch to a pro-Apple stance from a hardline stance against encryption is a glimmer of hope, not just for the issue of personal security and privacy, but also hope that even strict Republicans could eventually see the damage they’re doing to personal liberties and change their minds. Lindsey Graham should be commended, not for being a Republican who decided that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue–though that is highly commendable–but for being willing to change his stance on such a public issue and decide that the interests of his constituents was more important than seeming “consistent.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch took the completely misinformed stance that the FBI’s only looking to get into one phone on The Late Show (clip above). She outright lied about the fact that this would be a security backdoor, and belittled the idea of Apple being forced to write software, a protected free speech, by the government. Even the FBI has admitted that this case is to set a precedent, and the San Bernardino police chief has admitted that they don’t actually think the shooter’s work phone will have any information on it, as both he and his wife had personal phones, which they both destroyed before their rampage. Is it really worth deceiving the public over this?
Steve Wozniak once pointed out that he made a number of Mac viruses, back in the early days of Apple, but quickly deleted them, because he knew something, once created, would get out. You can see his appearance on Conan above, where he convinces Conan to side with Apple against the FBI.
In the pre-internet days that Woz speaks of, deleting a piece of software really was that easy. It’s not that simple anymore. Now, software engineers work collaboratively using tools like GitHub or Stash, which allow us to store our code on (usually) secure servers, and work together on the same projects, merging our changes to create software. Software is far more complicated than it was in Woz’s day, and tools like this are important. You can bet Apple would use a similar tool to create the hacked version of iOS. That means that there could be multiple copies of the software that can cripple iPhone security in the cloud, so to speak. A potential infinite number of copies of the software could be created, downloaded, and shared. Once created, the easily hacked version of iOS with a gaping security hole (which, make no mistake, is a backdoor) would be available to many people. That means anyone at Apple could have access to that software who has rights to that repository. If even just a few Apple employees have access to this software, there are multiple sources of people who could leak it out. And that definitely could happen.
Apple developed the iPhone and iPad in secret laboratories, using literally locked off areas of their campus that were as hard to get in and out of, physically, as secure areas in the Pentagon. Those who worked on the projects only knew their own small part in it, and very few knew what all those parts came together to form. Yet we still knew all about these devices prior to release. You know all about the iPhone SE and iPad Pro right now thanks to leaks. The only people who are interested in these details are tech geeks and investors, yet they still leak out, and people even pay huge sums of money to ensure they leak out. Technology blog Gizmodo paid thousands of dollars for a stolen iPhone 4 prototype, even though they knew what they were doing was incredibly illegal. This was all just to report on it, for the sake of news. If journalists are willing to go that far, how far do you think foreign governments and hackers would go to get their hands on this software? Do you think a person could be corrupted by the idea of billions of dollars, protection from extradition, and citizenship in a new country? They’re already corrupted just by the idea of getting the word out, for free, the desire to share secrets, do you really think they’ll be willing to keep a secret when billions of dollars are at stake? The software would leak out, and soon, every hacker, government, thief, and police officer would have the ability to crack into the iPhone, worldwide. This isn’t slippery slope, a secret as good as this software could not be kept locked up. It absolutely would get out.
The inevitable release of this software would put people in authoritarian regimes at risk, and would completely stifle free speech. The fictitious world of Mirror’s Edge is based on the idea that the government has made electronic communication insecure, so the only way to communicate securely was a team of highly trained parkuor runners, who would physically carry messages at great risk to their own lives. If the government maintains control over communication, no one has free speech, and without free speech, no one can be free. Is this the dystopian world we want to create?
Even worse than the hacked version of iOS getting out is the precedent the FBI is trying to set. That precedent would allow the government to force all tech companies to create compromised versions of their software. Windows is already compromised, as their encryption keys are stored on Microsoft clouds by default, though the user can opt-out of this function. Google’s Android phones have a number of vulnerabilities, including ones that allow the fingerprint sensor to be completely bypassed, but a secure Android device that’s encrypted with a strong password would be very difficult to break into. The iPhone is, by far, the most secure form of digital communication we have, but even it’s vulnerable to “wire tapping” and carriers releasing the numbers calls were made to as well as their duration, known as metadata, which can tell officials a great deal of information about the relationships between people. However, with this precedent in place, the FBI will go beyond their normal tools of deduction, creating a police state where everyone’s personal security and privacy can be compromised by any police officer. We already know that not all of them can be trusted with this ability, let alone the fact that compromised software would be in the hands of every mugger, thief, pawnshop proprietor, spy, and governmental “gestapo” worldwide.
Right now, there is little reason for a thief to steal an iPhone, as they cannot unlock it, yet phones are still frequent targets of thieves. After the government forces Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and others to create broken versions of their software that are easily hacked, and this software gets in the hands of everyone worldwide, phones will be the primary target of thieves and spies.
Compromising personal security would put national security at risk. If no one can have a secure phone, then members of our own government, the very people in favor of the FBI’s plan, would be put at risk. This is why this legal battle is the most important one that has happened in the tech world over the last decade. This isn’t getting the kind of media attention it deserves, and it’s definitely not getting the fair and balanced (see what I did there?) coverage it deserves. In the United States, security, privacy, freedom, and facts, should not be a partisan issue. This is the country that is supposed to defend those ideals, not take them away. The only way Apple will win this case is if government officials and politicians realize that it’s not a battle they’re willing to lose their career over. People need to talk about this, people need to spread the word, people need to say the won’t vote for a candidate who would strip them of their security and privacy. Otherwise, these judges, senators, and police forces will silently endanger people worldwide, tearing down the curtains from their windows, prying into the most private parts of their lives, and the world will never be the same after that. Am I being an alarmist? Absolutely. And you should be too. The precedent and software this decision would create is dangerous enough, without the extremely likely potential of it leaking out to those who would do harm with it. That cannot be allowed to happen, and the only way of stopping that future from happening is by standing up right now.