Apple and the FBI have been in the headlines recently. The government’s argument for Apple to provide it with access to a suspected terrorist’s cell phone data preys upon the American public’s technological illiteracy. FBI Director Comey testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing last week, “The code the judge has directed Apple to write works only on this one phone.”
Anyone in the tech community immediately sniffs out red flags with this statement. And, the rest of the American public will soon understand as well.
We’ve seen this story before. Once you give government authorities technology to access data, they always want more.
Five years ago, Blackberry was ordered by governments like Saudi Arabia to provide access to the conversations taking place in its encrypted Blackberry Messenger app. Initially, Blackberry declined, but then Saudi Arabia banned all Blackberry’s from the country and the company caved. What happened to Blackberry in Saudi Arabia was not the first time, but rather a repeat scenario which stems back to Russia. In 2007, Blackberry was granted access to the country on condition that they give the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, full access to data on the Blackberry. They gave access to one government and from there on out, every other government in the world took note and required similar access. In 2011, the United Arab Emirates received access and India in 2012.
This is the crux of Apple’s argument: If Apple gives access for this single instance, they will open the floodgates for the rest of the United States, and, eventually, the world to make similar demands. Once you open Pandora’s Box, you can’t close it.
The government has tried to gloss over this point, but the American people are waking up to yet another instance of false information from government authorities. And, even Comey admitted that the San Bernardino case would create a precedent that other authorities would be watching closely. The Guardian reports, “The ultimate outcome of the Apple-FBI showdown is likely to “guide how other courts handle similar requests”, James Comey told a congressional intelligence panel on Thursday.”
As the CEO of a mobile app development company that includes the FBI and Google as clients, I can tell you that any technical solution that Apple creates for one phone could be used for another phone. The FBI wants to be able to guess the 4 digit passcode on the iPhone an unlimited number of times. It wants Apple to get rid of the safety default which wipes the phone’s information after 10 incorrect guesses. In order to do this, Apple would need to dedicate a team of engineers to code the software update. Then, they would have to upload the revised software to the specific iPhone. However, the software would exist and there would be nothing stopping every federal, state and foreign government from demanding Apple to upload the software to any other iPhone.
Already, the New York Times is reporting that the Justice Department has requested help unlocking nine other iPhones in the United States. The San Bernardino case is the tip of the iceberg.
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