Clearly-written explanations of what the F.B.I. wants Apple to do–and how Apple could do it–in the San Bernadino, CA terrorism case are hard to come by, but Peter Bright over at Ars Technica has published one. He makes it plain that, despite the fears of many thousands of cell-phone users, the encryption capability of those phones really isn’t at stake. What is at stake is a company’s–any company’s–freedom to control its software without governmental interference and the future positioning of tech companies and the government in the coming legislative battle to write (or not write) a law that defines the limits of all kinds of encryptable devices. Apple and Google and Facebook would like to be in the lead in crafting that legislation but if the F.B.I. can exploit the loophole they’ve found in Apple’s technical capabilities, then government itself may be able to bring the tech giants to heel.
Since virtually everyone you and I know owns and operates a cell phone, computer, or tablet, the public discussion over the necessity of security and the necessity of freedom is an important one, and justifies going beyond the usual bounds of Books Here And There‘s subject matter by just a little bit.
[PS–‘Tis true, Apple has received court orders before to unlock phones–at least thirteen times–but those orders applied to older, more easily-crackable phones. The present case is different. Apple is being asked to provide a weakened iOS to help go around the encryption capabilities of a modern phone in San Bernadino. Even if that encryption capability stays intact, Apple does not want to be in the position of trying to sell phones that the public knows are potentially not secure. While Mr. Bright reassures me that the F.B.I. is not seeking technical help that would enable it to crack any phone anywhere, I am still a little uncomfortable with what the agency is asking for, and my sympathies–both emotional and intellectual–are, at present, on Apple’s side in the case. The government has quite enough “brute force” capabilities as it is. I would not wish to give it the means by which to discover even more, capabilities which would almost certainly extend beyond the need to combat terrorism.]