Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Why the FBI's request to Apple will affect civil rights for a generation

Rich Mogull | Feb. 18, 2016
No legal case applies in a vacuum, and in this case the FBI needs the precedence more than the evidence.

Thus the FBI wants a new version of iOS, signed by Apple and installed on the device, that removes limitations on their attempts to brute-force the password.

Why this matters

Legal precedent is like a glacier, slowly building over time until it becomes neigh unstoppable. Major issues like this are first, and sometimes ultimately, decided on a series of small steps that build on each other. It’s the reason the NRA fights any attempts at gun control, since they fear a slow build, not a single small law.

The crux of this round of the encryption debate is if companies should be forced to build tools to circumvent their customers’ security. If the answer is “yes,” it could be a small step to “should they just build these tools into the OS from the start?”

I have no doubt the FBI deliberately chose the highest-profile domestic terrorism case in possibly a decade. We, average citizens, want the FBI to stop this sort of evil. We don’t necessarily see this one case as applying to our lives and our rights. Why the big deal? What if the FBI could find the terrorists’ contacts and stop other attacks?

What matters is if we have a right to the security and privacy of our devices and communications.

But the truth is, no legal case applies in a vacuum. If this goes through, if Apple is forced to assist, it will open a floodgate of law enforcement requests. Then what about civil cases? Opening a phone to support a messy divorce and child custody battle? Or what about requests from other nations, especially places like China and the UAE that already forced BlackBerry and others to compromise the security of their customers?

And once the scale of these requests increases, as a security professional I guarantee the tools will leak, the techniques will be exploited by criminals, and our collective security will decline. It really doesn’t matter if it’s the iPhone 5c or 6s. It really doesn’t matter if this is about dead terrorists or a drug dealer. It doesn’t matter what specific circumvention Apple is being asked to create.

What matters is if we have a right to the security and privacy of our devices, and of our communications, which are also under assault. If we have the right to tools to defend ourselves from the government and criminals alike. Yes, these tools will be sometimes used for the worst of crimes, but they’re also fundamental to our civil rights, freedom of discourse, and our ability to protect our digital lives from the less impactful, but far more frequent criminal attacks.

This situation was engineered by the FBI and Department of Justice for the maximum impact and chances of success. Apple is fighting, and as a security professional it’s my obligation to support their position, and stronger security.

 

Previous Page  1  2  3 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.