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Security vs. privacy: Evaluating the government’s case

Kenneth van Wyk | March 23, 2016
Is the government desperate, feigning desperation or just staggeringly inept?

In response, product vendors have been stepping up their game. One need only look at the security evolution of the iPhone from 2007 to today to see that Apple and others are getting serious about privacy.

What the government fears the most in this regard is that it will lose the ability to (lawfully or otherwise) collect information. It claims that it won’t be able to catch terrorists, kidnappers and so forth. But are those fears reasonable?

I find it curious that the government chose the case of the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone to push this issue. For one thing, the phone that the government is seeking to unlock is owned by his employer. Never mind the fact that the employer should have had the ability to manage that device and unlock it as it sees fit. For the executive branch investigators to turn to the judicial branch to force a vendor to unlock its own product seems quite bizarre when you consider it should have had it unlocked from day one.

Clearly, the government couldn’t compel the terrorist to reveal the key, since he is dead. So instead, it had to reveal its own blundering by taking this to court.

I can only assume that, by choosing this case to push its agenda, the government is either desperate, feigning desperation or just staggeringly inept. I don’t find comfort in any of those scenarios.

If the government is truly desperate, it has to know that it is losing the “crypto wars” and this is a last-ditch attempt to try to extract victory from the jaws of defeat. If it is merely feigning desperation, it is trying to lull us back into thinking our systems are more secure than they really are — meanwhile, it has developed or is developing some post-Snowden means of obtaining our data. And if it’s just staggeringly inept — then God save us.

So do we really need to give up our privacy? Being a fan of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I feel the onus should be on the government to unlock our secrets, not the other way around. I doubt any reasonable person would object to the government having the ability to do so, as long as solid oversight is in place and enforced. But we civilians certainly shouldn’t be forced to build products that are deliberately weakened. The bar needs to be high, and in the name of liberty, we should be allowed to build our systems as strongly as we’re able to.

 

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