Apple vs Uncle Sam

An American shit storm is brewing, this time it is between the FBI and “the” corporate giant of today’s times, Apple Inc. A heinous terrorist attack on American soil where a radicalized couple, amassed weapons and killed fourteen people happened not so long ago. One of the perpetrators owned an iPhone C.

Apple’s encryption and security features have foiled the FBI’s attempts at breaking into the device. Gaining access to this device is of utmost importance as it may contain important information which will possibly help the investigators learn if the terrorists were working with someone else.

A judge has issued an order directing Apple Inc. to grant access to the phone. So what is the problem here? Why doesn’t Apple just acquiesce to this request? Because it isn’t that simple. The technology to break into this device doesn’t exist. Apple has apparently made a state of the art operating system with advanced security features which even the best of the best can’t break into.

To comply with the orders of the judge, Apple will need to create a new operating system and build weaknesses in it to enable the FBI to use brute force techniques to crack open the phone and unlock the data within. Once this method is devised, it can potentially be used to break any phone. It weakens the defences on all our devices and creates a security threat for anyone worldwide using an iPhone.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO published an open letter on Apple’s website, roping in the general public into the discussion. He outlined what the FBI and the law had asked of them, he iterated what their company would have to do to comply and then laid out how it would affect everyone else using their Apple devices.

We live in a dangerous world today. America is a bright target for Islamic fundamentalists who have America and its destruction in their sights. They have used the rights and freedoms afforded to Americans as a way to terrorize them. The lax security at airports was infamously exploited as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Those arguing that Apple should do whatever it takes to help with the investigation have this as the crux of their argument.

Let’s face it, most people are law abiding citizens, hence there is relative calm in western countries where the rule of law prevails. Many law abiding citizens tend to think that since they are on the straight and narrow, and have nothing to hide what does it matter if a government agency had access to their records, at least they would be safe.

People also tend to sacrifice their individual rights for perceived collective good.

All these and others are good arguments for granting FBI the access they desire, by asking Apple to compromise the rights and freedoms of millions of people. Or is it?

People on the other side have some great points as well. Individual rights to privacy and security being one of them. According to Apple, once this tool is created, it can be used again and again and again. Even though the FBI’s request and the judge’s order does not call for this.

Government over reach however is not a new ailment. Edward Snowden blew the whistle on mass data collection the government was involved with, listening in to conversations of ordinary Americans who never did anything wrong in their lives. Admittedly, this mass data collection never really amounted to anything in terms of keeping America safe and made everyone vulnerable to abuse.

A noble government is not the only one who can exploit such a tool. Once created, nothing stops the tool from becoming a holy grail quest within the hacker community. On numerous occasions government has been unable to maintain security of its own digital resources, how does it think it can guarantee this tool will not be misappropriated and used against the people?

Looking at both sides I ask myself what is the answer to this very tough question?

On one side we have the families of the people killed in the San Bernardino attack who deserve answers. The FBI who is doing its best to determine if there was anyone else involved and bring them to justice, preventing future attacks.

On the other side, we have our rights, freedom and liberty. Each of us is an individual, born in a free country, who contributes to society and expects that society in turn respect his freedom and leave him alone as long as he abides with the laws prescribed.

As long as there are people on the face of this planet, crime will always exist. There will always be those who are misguided, who think their way is the correct way and they will use violence and intimidation to ensure the rest of us change our ways or die. So when we fight such an ideology, does it really make sense to compromise our individual rights and freedoms? Doesn’t that mean that these heinous criminals have emerged victorious in this ideological war?

In the past few years, when these criminal elements have tested us, we have cowered in fear and afforded government greater powers, powers which compromise our liberties just so that they might keep us safe. But the government is not our parent. Yes, it is tasked with wielding an infrastructure of laws and enforcement to maintain harmony within society, but really we the people are responsible as well.

There is no one better than each of us to keep us safe. Families need to look within and identify any extremist or violent traits amongst its members, affording the individual affected to prompt mental health counselling and help. We need to get involved with our neighbours and co-workers so we know those around us. This came naturally to our parents, grand parents and our ancestors before them. Society during their time was safer than ours.

Allow me to build an analogy here. Let’s imagine a criminal attacked your neighbour’s home a couple of houses away from yours. The police came and surrounded the home, and then asked the perpetrator to give himself up. He refused and then as the swat team stormed the house, he killed one of the hostages. The swat team had trouble getting in quickly because they couldn’t break down the strong doors that safeguarded the house.

Now, the court looked at this and mandated that a master key be built for every home. It directed these keys be in possession of the nearest police station so that if there ever was a call from your home, they could come out and access it quicker and possibly save your life.

In such circumstance, would you be comfortable in your home knowing that a key to your house was with your nearest police station? Do all cops come with a guarantee that they exist only to serve and protect? Have we never had instances where people in law enforcement have abused their powers? What if a drunk cop decided he liked your daughter, followed her home, then doubled back, grabbed the key to your home and let himself in to rape and murder your child?

This is an accurate analogy of what the court and the FBI are asking Apple to do. Create a master key that can potentially be abused not only by the people in law enforcement, but by people who might steal this technology from law enforcement to wreak havoc in our lives. I am of the opinion that the existence of such technology is a greater risk to me and to the security of my family than the potential threat of a future terrorist attack, so I support the viewpoint that such a backdoor never be created.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What would you like to see happen? Please feel free to leave a comment below.


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