OT: Apple and Privacy vs. National Security

Submitted by StephenRKass on February 18th, 2016 at 5:09 PM

I haven't generated any posts lately, but there's a current hot topic I'm interested in. I'm curious for info on the privacy vs. national security questions raised in recent days, between the FBI and Apple. Here's the synopsis, if you've been living under a rock. Apparently, the San Bernardino terrorist's Apple i-phone wasn't destroyed, and the FBI wants Apple to help unlock the encryption so they can presumably see a record of calls and stored information, contacts, etc.. And (edit) Tim (not Robert) Cook of Apple is refusing, suggesting that to do this would be to create a "backdoor" giving the government access to every single i-phone out there, and all the content.

I've googled this topic, and read several articles on it, but still am unsure about what to think. Here's what I don't understand. Why can't Apple unlock the phone for the FBI and assist them in getting the data off of the phone? Can't they do this without giving the FBI software that would allow for the creation of a universal backdoor the FBI could use on everyone's phone? From what I've read, the encryption is so good that even Apple can't get in . . . it would have to write new software to be able to get in. And Cook doesn't even want that kind of software written, even if it is in-house at Apple. Is that correct?

My interest is really in what Apple can do to preserve privacy, and at the same time allow for the government to do everything it can towards national security. Is it possible, or do we really have to choose between either privacy, or national security concerns? I want to have my cake and eat it too!



February 18th, 2016 at 5:58 PM ^

Having worked with both the Cupertinans and the Mountain Viewans, there's plenty good and bad with both companies, and we shouldn't be excited about a future dominated by either or both of them.

And on this particular issue?: It's worth noting that Apple's principaled stand for our collective privacy rights also happens to be great marketing.


February 18th, 2016 at 5:11 PM ^

I know I am in the minority, but open the phone.  I've long been a firm believer that privacy is great but what do honest people have to hide from national security?


February 18th, 2016 at 5:17 PM ^

it's about the federal government ordering the company to create a program that does not currently exist. And once it does you better darn well that do use it more often and foreign governments can then demand Apple use the tool as well. add to that that I don't believe this is actually about national security at this point. def stand with Apple, props to them for having the courage to take on the issue


February 18th, 2016 at 6:08 PM ^

Right. The problem is that they are a consumer-goods company and following the court order would damage their brand.

Fewer people will buy phones that they know have security holes. Fewer people will buy phones that they know are manufactured by a company who kowtowed to the government in a case where many see a legal reach.

I expect this to go to the SCOTUS, unless the FBI backs down. No Scalia, will be interesting.


February 18th, 2016 at 6:20 PM ^

I don't really get it, though. When people used to communicate via letters, landline calls, etc., the government was able to investigate by getting a court order. If you took nude Polaroids or sent a personal letter, those things could be confiscated by the police if/when they were found stashed in your attic. Why should anything on our phones be more secretive? Just because we have fancy electronic devices? If I mailed a nude Polaroid in 1990, it was free for the taking, but if I text a nude photo in 2016, it should stay hidden forever and ever?

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2016 at 6:35 PM ^

I think that what Apple is doing here is marketing, plain and simple.  If the government has a legitimate subpoena or warrant, then it seems like nobody's constitutional rights are being violated.  A company like Apple should be willing to cooperate in these limited circumstances.

What bothers me is when the government does warrantless searches and searches my property without probable cause.  This is not that.  This is searching a murderer/terrorist's mobile phone for critical information.

Your "just because it's on a phone, why is that sacrosanct?" seems spot-on to me.

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2016 at 6:52 PM ^

Try this analogy.  What if I bought a safe from the Orange Safe Company?  The Orange Safe Company has an encryptable lock mechanism or a biometric lock mechanism so customers feel that their goods are safe.

If the Orange Safe Company can override that mechanism because the San Bernandino asswipes have evidence in there, I think they should.  You drive at a deeper question, which is "can the government make them override it"? 

On that, I'd probably say no.  BUT, I think the government could compel the Orange Safe Company to provide the source and object code, and all manuals, so that the government could override the mechanism.  And if I'm the Orange Safe Company, you can bet I would rather unlock the safe myself than give all that code to the government.

And if I'm an Orange Safe Company customer, I feel better about Orange Safe opening the safe rather than the government now having the knowledge (even if there was a protective order) on how to defeat the mechanism.

I think Apple is being cagey here for marketing concerns, and they may regret doing it in the long term. 

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2016 at 7:12 PM ^

Picture this scenario.  The feds take this to court, and Apple is compelled to cooperate.  It's discovered that Apple has always kept a "master key" to defeat the encryption, and overplayed how hard it would be to get the data (this "master key" rumor is floating around).  Seven months pass for this to play out.  After that, the phone is de-encrypted, revealing a fount of evidence.

Just two months from now, peers of the San Bernandino asswipes commit a terroristic act killing dozens of people in a California school.  It's a horrible scene, with children dead.

Also, other connections of the San Bernandio asswipes are now "in the wind" because of the passage of time.  Dangerous people who are now impossible to locate, and perhaps now out of the country.

So how does Apple feel about its marketing plan now, assuming that this is a marketing issue?  More importantly, how does the buying public feel about that?

I expect my phone manufacturer to protect me from hacks.  I expect my phone manufacturer to protect me from unreined government snooping (even though I'm pretty damned boring).  But if I am credibly shown to be a terrorist committing heinous acts, I expect my phone manufacturer to cooperate with law enforcement's reasonable requests.


February 18th, 2016 at 6:39 PM ^

In communist Europe, it was even worse. People KNEW, with absolute certainty, that the government was opening their mail and reading it without court order.

Result? People stopped mailing stuff and used coded language to dissent, if they had the courage to dissent at all. A freezing of confidence in the mail service. We don't want to live like that. So we protect privacy.

More to the point, our capitalism is based, in large part, on consumer confidence. It doesn't matter if anything has changed or not between jpeg and polaroid. The consumer expects privacy, whether they should or not. This would set a precedent whereby the government can completely undermine consumer confidence in a brand, this one the 2nd moat profitable in the world. It would be a fundamental change in US law and US capitalism.

I find this interesting because I'm all about regulation. But this is something else, and it will be interesting to see where some people who don't share my views fall on the privacy/constitution vs. corporation/capitalism debate.

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2016 at 6:45 PM ^

This is not the government snooping on the populace in order to keep order.  This is a limited instance, with a subpoena or warrant, to obtain information about a crime that was plainly committed by these asswipes.

I think few of us would be shocked if the government had a warrant, came into a suspected terrorist's house, and opened their mail.  I fall on the privacy side of the general spectrum, but if Apple cooperates here, that should not undermine my privacy expectations whatsoever. 

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2016 at 7:03 PM ^

A few points here (interesting discussion, btw!).  First, Apple could have handled this without any of the current publicity, helped the feds crack open the phone, and papered it up with the government so that if it ever went public (e.g., through a chain of evidence hearing in a subsequent prosecution) that Apple was only helping due to a warrant that Apple was not challenging due to the nature of the investigation.  The only customers that Apple loses there are drug dealers and terrorists. 

Second, it seems analogous to the banker who, upon presentation of a valid warrant, opens up the safe deposit box potentially containing evidence.  Those people cooperate almost uniformly, even though it diminishes the sense of security the other safe deposit box holders have.

Third, folks like me think that Apple's current position hurts the brand.  A lot.  I think they're being obstreporous for marketing reasons - not because of any deep principle.  That's just an impression, but they seem to be beating this drum awfully loudly at a time when their product line fails to impress as it once did.


February 19th, 2016 at 1:32 PM ^

When was the last time the people, or the states, gave the federal government power and the feds did not abuse that power? Or after they were done using that power for "this one instance" gave back that power? Once you give more power to the feds, you never get it back. 


February 18th, 2016 at 8:14 PM ^

I think if an American company creates a product that is used in the process of committing a crime, then that American company should be responsible for reverse engineering its own product to aid in investigations. It's pretty irresponsible to create a product that's used for doing evil and then throw up your hands and say, "Sorry, we're the experts on this product, but you're out of luck if you want to figure out how people planned a terrorist act with it!"

I agree with others in this thread who have said that maybe it's not the right thing for them to make the code available to the FBI, but Apple should be able to provide a resource.

If consumers have a problem with it, then they'll be out of luck. The choice is to use cell phones or not. This event wouldn't just hurt Apple; it would also have an effect on the other producers of cell phones, because they would have to follow the same rules/regulations.

To carry on your analogy, people have to ship things via USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc. Somehow things have to get from one place to another. As long as all those shipping companies are following the same laws, then there shouldn't be a bigger blow to to any one in particular. And if instead people choose to drive illegal/inappropriate packages in the backs of their own cars or pay someone under the table to do so, then so be it. At least you're making it more difficult and creating a barrier for the people who are doing things they shouldn't be doing. Meanwhile, those shipping companies should only be losing business from people who are sending illegal things, anyway. If I'm just sending a birthday card to my mom or a check to the refrigerator repair man, I'm still going to use that service.


February 18th, 2016 at 9:48 PM ^

That's the thing. If the government wins, and Apple does have to help investigate, their brand and business will presumably be hurt. You say the consumers will be out of luck, and that's true, but that doesn't bother me so much. The troublesome issue is the American government harming a large American corporation. That doesn't even really bother me, but it would be the beginning of a new epoch of American capitalism.


February 19th, 2016 at 7:49 AM ^

That's not exactly what I said, though. I said that all tech companies (Apple, Google, Nokia, Blackberry, etc.) would be "hurt" because they would all have to follow the same rules. So your choice is to buy an Apple device (with security holes) or an Android (with security holes) or... To use the aforementioned analogy, whether a safe is made my ACME or Smithport, the government should be able to get inside it if necessary. That doesn't really change the fact that some people are going to buy safes.


February 19th, 2016 at 8:30 AM ^

The difference with safes is that no one expects them to be totally inviolable. We expect that of our iPhones, whether we should or not. So, can the government force Apple to change that? Legally, maybe, if the Court says so. But I don't think that legal determination is made without considering the economic effect this will have.

I think the FBI could legally compel Apple to open this particular phone, just as they could legally compel ACME to open a particular safe. I'm not sure they could legally compel Apple to create a product designed to weaken the security of all of their phones and thus damage the brand. Just like I don't think they can compel ACME to create a master key that would unlock all safes.


February 19th, 2016 at 12:01 PM ^

Really? I think if we took a survey, the majority of people would say, "My phone is private, but it could be hacked/opened if the police were doing an investigation." I have zero expectation that if the police were suddenly investigating me for something, that I could simply say "Good luck getting it unlocked and decoded, suckers!" 

At no point in the history of Earth has man ever been able to say, "There are some things that I am going to keep in a certain place, and even if you find it, you will never get in." Cavemen couldn't do it. Not the early Egyptians or Greeks or Romans. Not Renaissance-era Europe, not anyone. Why is it that in 2016, we suddenly need ways to keep something totally private so nobody ever sees it or hears it? It's a very odd expectation.


February 19th, 2016 at 2:17 PM ^

We're kind of talking past each other here. It's not that any info on a phone is hidden forever. If I'm arrested and charged with a crime, I expect the police to go through my phone. I don't own an iPhone, security isn't a big concern of mine. This isn't about the data on the phone or any notion of specific phone security. What is at issue is that in this case, the police are trying to order a private company to do it for them by creating a new product which will hurt the company's reputation.

Older iPhones don't have the feature that this one has, whereby it wipes all data after 10 wrong pin entries. If they had an older phone in their hands, no one would be bothered by the police cracking it. But Apple gas created that feature as a consumer product that people now expect to work as advertised -- they paid for it to work. Can the police force a corporation to defeat it's own products against its will and thereby harm its reputation?

That it is a phone is just happenstance. That it is even a security issue is just happenstance. It could be the government ordering Ikea to create a self-destruct button on futons. This would ruin Ikea in the market through no volition of its own.


February 24th, 2016 at 11:19 AM ^

A company should not be able to create a program that it cannot also reverse engineer. You say that this "just happens to be a phone," but the issue of a safe has been brought up elsewhere in this thread. You dismissed that idea also. So you keep narrowing this down to "this is a specific case," but when I talk about it being a PHONE, you say that's too specific.

I'm going back to the safe analogy, since it's the best one so far, IMO. It would be irresponsible of a safe company to say, "We just created a safe that nobody can unlock. Even we can't do it. So if there's evidence in there, you will be unable to get it. Ever." That company should be responsible for knowing how to unlock the safe. And if the government can't do it themselves, then it's reasonable to ask the company itself for assistance.

Again, I don't think this hurts Apple any more than it hurts Android, Samsung, etc. Because ultimately, if Apple follows this rule, then those other companies will have to do so, too. And if nobody (not Apple, not Android, not Samsung, etc.) is allowed to create an entirely fool-proof system without some sort of backdoor, then everyone is on the same footing.


February 18th, 2016 at 9:45 PM ^

I bought an iPhone specifically because it was by far the most secure. In terms of security androids are basically barefoot. You can add additional protections, but it just ain't as good.

That aside, lets look at what is really going on. The feds did not go to Apple, hand them a single phone and say "national securiity get the data for us and no one needs be the wiser". Instead now we have a court case about when the goverment can force a company to compromise customer's confidentiality. This is far less about finding out about the specific terrorist and much more about establishing a precedent to allow the feds to get access to an individual's data. 


February 18th, 2016 at 10:32 PM ^

@Magnus The government was never able to get a court order to force an envelope company to make all its envelopes see-through (to the government or anyone else).

It's a forced labor issue, which is a euphemism for a short-term slavery issue. Apple did nothing wrong. Can the government force Apple to do work that they don't want to do, in the name of national security? In other words, enslave Apple engineers for however long it takes to complete the work the government demands? I say no. But the draft is still legal in this country, despite being a much more horrific example of slavery, so I bet a lot of people will neg me and say, a) how dare you compare this to slavery, and b) of course yes, in the name of national security, it's ok to enslave people.

R.I.P. Bo

February 19th, 2016 at 3:36 AM ^

How in the world do you dot the lines to even remotely bring enslavement into this issue??? Citizens of this country have always enjoyed their privacy, EXCEPT in the issuance of a court order... OK, I get it. Courts are evil, the government is evil, law inforcement is evil.

I hope that there is, in fact, a network of like minded killers unknown to us at this point.... A network that was not uncovered as a result of "our rights". And I pray to God (which I assume is part of your "Grand Government Slavery Conspiracy") that they take out your wife, children..... Hell, your 3rd grade English teacher.

Perhaps then you would understand. Perhaps then you would begin to comprehend the suffering of the victims loved ones.

I trust our government and law enforcement to protect its populace more than I adhere to your concerns of enslavement.

But, you my friend are safe.... That tin foil hat of yours will protect you....

Putting down my drink and going to sleep now.....



February 19th, 2016 at 8:13 AM ^

Is it that the government doesn't WANT to do it? Or is it that Apple has the means to do it and the government does not?

I think "slavery" is too strong of a term here. I think a company should be able to reverse engineer a program developed on their own device without a ton of difficulty. I think the government should compensate Apple in some form. There is a bit of a parallel in the shape of Eminent Domain; for the greater good, the government can compensate you for your property, house, etc. in order to build a mass transit system or highway, for example.


February 18th, 2016 at 8:13 PM ^

If you want to sell items in a country you have to follow the system of law in that country.  How long until they are in contempt?  I haven't heard of a stay yet, though I think one may be coming.  Covertly by passing security for the goverment  is one thing, defying a court order is another.  I don't know how I hope it ends.   



03 Blue 07

February 18th, 2016 at 6:18 PM ^

I work in civil litigation, and can generally understand why the seeking party-- here, the government-- believes it should be given this information. It's somewhat akin to e-discovery in civil litigation (though obviously much more life and death). Sometimes, you ask for and are granted backup tapes or data which are used to create a virtual copy of a prior system of computers as they existed at one time.

Put differently, say you're in litigation involving corporate fraud. If one party wants to try to figure out who knew what and when about a partcular topicand to know what was in someone's email and where it was in their email on a certain date and whether it had been opened, then you go about trying to create a virtual version of that email inbox on that date. You can do this and get this info in discovery. You're creating something that didn't exist before when you do this...but it's  representation of what did actually previously exist. The "key" program the government wants Apple to create has never existed before. That's one distinction. 

Another is that, as said by the NYT (/ducks), this is not a case such as when the police have a warrant to search a house and they find a locked safe and they demand the homeowner provide the keyor et a warrant forcing the handover of the key. What they are asking Apple (the homeowner) to do is create a key from scratch that also simultaneously renders all safes everywhere no longer secure [because once this would happen-- Apple creating the software to crack their own phones-- then not only would governments request it more and more often [think NSA secret court where they just rubber-stamped surveillance requests], but it woud likely fall into the hands of criminal organizations eventually].

But then you weigh the fact that we're talking about mass murder here. And the possible prevention of future mass murders (I assume). But I still think Apple is doing the right thing because of the principles involved-- I'd rather be less safe in a country that's more free than more safe in a country that's less free, essentially.