Apple vs. the FBI


I’ve been thinking about this whole FBI vs. Apple ordeal over unlocking the work phone of the San Bernardino shooter. I applaud Apple for making the unpopular choice to stand against the FBI request, in spite of the pressure to capitulate because “we want to stop terrorists” at all costs.

If Apple is forced to do this for the FBI it opens a wide door to using this power to retrieve contents from any phone the it wants. Even worse is the precedent it sets for the governments of other countries that are less friendly to their citizens than the US government is.

On the most recent episode of ATP, John Siracusa really sums up how I feel.

Big picture. Pull back from this issue, pull back from this one phone, pull back details about how it’s been taylor-made to set legal precedent, … keep pulling back, from this case, from this thing, from phones, from encryption, from all the details … and just think over the last several decades … the general trend in American government has been people being afraid, and looking for anyone who promises to make them safer and giving up rights to get that imagined safety. - John Siracusa, Accidental Tech Podcast 158: You Can’t Outlaw Math

John continues on to make the point that once we cede rights to the government, it rarely gives them back. The entire discussion is really good and if you find yourself having difficulty understanding why Apple wouldn’t want to help the FBI you should listen to the full episode. You might feel differently afterwards.

Another interesting read is this article from
The Intercept: Eight Memorable Passages From Apple’s Fiery Response to the FBI.

The Motion Apple filed to vacate the FBI order covers CALEA, which I didn't previously know about. John Gruber lays it out very well. The argument is that the FBI is trying use the All Writs Act to do an end-run around something that congress has already ruled on.

Here’s another great except from the Motion, also posted by Federico Viticci on MacStories

And if it succeeds here against Apple, there is no reason why the government could not deploy its new authority to compel other innocent and unrelated third-parties to do its bidding in the name of law enforcement. For example, under the same legal theories advocated by the government here, the government could argue that it should be permitted to force citizens to do all manner of things "necessary" to assist it in enforcing the laws, like compelling a pharmaceutical company against its will to produce drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection in furtherance of a lawfully issued death warrant, or requiring a journalist to plant a false story in order to help lure out a fugitive, or forcing a software company to insert malicious code in its auto-update process that makes it easier for the government to conduct court-ordered surveillance. Indeed, under the government's formulation, any party whose assistance is deemed "necessary" by the government falls within the ambit of the All Writs Act and can be compelled to do anything the government needs to effectuate a lawful court order. While these sweeping powers might be nice to have from the government's perspective, they simply are not authorized by law and would violate the Constitution.

No matter how this showdown turns out It will have lasting effects on technology, security and privacy for a long time to come.

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