Consider this argument from the New York Times, on Apple’s resistance to the FBI’s request for assistance:
“The Obama administration and police officers around the country say no [Apple cannot refuse their request], and their precedent is the past. Homes and cars do not have unbreakable locks. You cannot buy an uncrackable safe. And terrorists and child molesters should not be able to buy a hand-held computer that keeps its secrets forever.”
That’s an argument? Let’s say you could buy a car designed like the iPhone: you need a password to open it, and you could not hack its security system without destroying everything of value inside. Do you want to say the FBI could force General Motors to bypass the car’s security? The seller has no interest in the car after after it sells the vehicle, except to demonstrate to the buyer that it acts in good faith. It also has no obligation to aid government snooping, no matter how strong the government’s claim on the product’s contents, or how compelling its need to know what it contains.
The Times asks, in its first paragraph, “Should you be able to lock your phone so securely that even the F.B.I. cannot open it?” Even the FBI? I would say especially the FBI. That’s why people want a secure phoneto begin with: because they know how much the FBI wants the information on it. Why would Apple sell a phone that wipes itself clean when someone tries to hack its security, then help the FBI bypass this feature the first time the feds come around for help? And why would you want to buy a secure device from a company that betrays you at the first sign of trouble?
Apprehend one more, highly significant point: if Apple writes software to help the FBI crack the San Bernardino phone, it hands the feds a key they can use to crack any phone. We would be back to the same pre-Snowden world we observed a few years ago, when government agencies would request assistance from the software giants, and the software giants complied. When Snowden exposed these relationships, the giants said they would not cooperate anymore.
Some people say security always trumps privacy, but we are not talking about simple privacy here. Apple wants to protect its customers from comprehensive digital surveillance by powerful agencies that observe no boundaries or limits. The authorities’ presumption that they can force Apple to comply with their request confirms how unrestrained they have become.