Monday, March 7, 2016
Week of 03/07/2016
Apple CEO Both Right And Wrong On Encryption
You know, it’s strange that some arguments just never end.
I’ve been doing online commentary for almost twenty years (as of this article’s posting date), and when it comes to the subject of encryption and electronic privacy, I get that incredible feeling of déjà vu.
I get that feeling because the subject was never really resolved when it was brought up over twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago, the federal government declared encryption to be as dangerous an item as nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. I’m not kidding about this! Anything they couldn’t readily access was deemed a threat to national security.
Even though there have been court challenges on this concept, the government’s stance hasn’t changed one bit. Even today, the government under President Barack Obama – supposedly the most liberal-slash-communist president to ever exist if you were to ever believe anything that talk radio would ever tell you – pompously believes that they are entitled to have access to anything electronic. Edward Snowden showed us that. But even without Snowden, we have Attorney Generals continually saying that anything on the Internet is theirs of the taking. If it’s “in the cloud”, they have access to it. No warrant. No probable cause. They demand it, they get it, that simple.
So why should we be surprised to hear that our pompous self-righteous government is demanding that Apple help them break into their most popular product?
The feds have an iPhone that supposedly belonged to one of the husband-and-wife terrorists in the San Bernardino attack this past December. They claim that it could have “essential information” on it that would lead them to other terrorists and groups that helped them. The problem is that it is encrypted with a self-destruct feature. If the wrong password is entered ten times, all the data on the phone is deleted.
So what the feds want is to force Apple to develop a “patch” that would neutralize the self-destruct feature, so they can then take all the time in the world to crack the password. They claim that this is a one-time-only request for this specific one-and-only-one iPhone, and that they never, ever, ever, ever, cross-their-hearts-and-hope-we-die make this request again.
And that’s all a crock of lies.
First of all, without going too deeply into this matter, we know that the federal government is lying about this being a one-time-only request. We know this because their New York offices made the same request for a whole bunch of iPhones in a separate non-terrorism case.
And, second, there is no such thing as a one-time-only request pertaining to one-and-only-one device in one-and-only-one situation, especially when the government is involved. Today it’s for a suspected terrorist. Tomorrow it’s for a drug dealer. And after that? Maybe it’s for the IRS to go after tax cheats. Or to snoop into the cellphones of a political critic. Snowden showed that if the government can do something, it will, and they will do it often.
Watergate did happen. Government snooping into the affairs of other nations did happen. Government snooping into the activities of political critics has happened. Government abuse of power for petty and political reasons is real. So these are the last groups of people that should be given the back-door keys to our tech.
Plus, once Apple makes this “patch” happen, even if they retained control over it and destroyed all of the code and all of the notes involved (which violates corporate record policies in-and-of-itself), the mere fact that it can be done will embolden hackers and governments around the world – including our own – to replicate it.
Let’s not forget that just a few weeks ago, a hospital in California was the victim of a nasty ransomware attack that could have come right out an episode of “CSI: Cyber”. And rather than find a way to purge the malware themselves, the hospital paid the ransom, because, you know, the crew of “CSI: Cyber” are fictional characters and real-world techs can’t solve problems like that in forty-three minutes. So now they are open to future ransomware threats, and they’ve just funded those future threats for both themselves and everyone else. Now picture that threat with being able to secretly disable and neutralize security features in Apple products like iPhones and networked applications like those smart watches that monitor one’s pulse.
Now... kudos go out to Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, for standing his ground against the federal government. He’s saying that Apple should not be compelled to disable a vital security feature under the trumped-up excuse of “national security”.
And for that, he’s right. For over twenty years, the federal government has pompously demanded people give them a back door access to encryption, the digital equivalent to getting a copy of everyone’s house-keys. You wouldn’t trust the government with a copy of the key to your home, so why trust them with the key to your computer?
But here’s where he’s wrong: Cook believes that this discussion shouldn’t be a matter of the courts, but by Congress. He wants Congress to come up with “rules” as to how the federal government should deal with these matters.
I’m sorry, Mister Cook, but, no. We can’t trust Congress any more than we can trust the White House, either under Obama or under anyone else.
Let’s get brutally honest here... there is already a set of rules in place concerning encryption. It’s called the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. And you can even throw in the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as well. And those rules say “no” to any kind of asinine pretense of “security”. We need to stand our ground for our own security, because we can’t trust the government to protect us from the hackers any more than we could trust them to stop the San Bernadino extremist attack.
And I’ll just toss in two things on that particular subject. First, the federal government screwed themselves when it came to getting into that cellphone, because they prevented that phone from backing up the most recent information on it to “the cloud” when they ordered the password reset. So now that they screwed themselves, they want Apple to fix their own mistake.
And second, we’re talking about a government-owned, government-provided cellphone. Do you really think that extremists with any kind of connection to larger groups of other extremists would be so stupid to put anything incriminating on a government-owned cellphone? These are people that live and breathe through readily-available disposable pre-paid phones. “Batman” creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger may have said that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, but they said nothing about them being stupid.
Yes, we live in a post-9/11 society, but that does not mean that we automatically forfeited the Constitution for some glorified pretense of “national security”. And I’ve been watching this issue for twenty years, and the only thing that has changed has been the level of fascistic arrogance from those in government that pompously assume that we all should live in fear and worry of the boogeyman. And, sadly, that change has been for the worse.
I’m normally not a fan of Apple, but in this particular case, I’m with them.