What we should learn about security and outrage from the Apple-F.B.I. feud

How much technological assistance should the government be able to compel in an investigation, and at what risk to privacy? On March 1, both Apple executives and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified about this question before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing continued the unfolding drama of Apple’s objection to a court order in the investigation of the San Bernardino shootings that commanded them to produce a custom version of the iPhone operating system with its security protections disabled, so the F.B.I. can hack into the shooter’s phone.

The underlying dilemma—how to balance the government’s search and surveillance powers against the limits imposed by modern encryption technology—has been with us for a while, and this case will not be the last to raise it. But involving as it does a mass shooting on American soil in which the shooters proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, this case presents the starkest contrast between privacy and national security so far encountered.

Advertisement

Hard cases make bad law, however, and outrage combined with fear for safety makes worse law yet. We should step back from the exigencies of a terrorist threat to consider the best policy going forward. Effectively unbreakable encryption is a reality not because of political, business or even technological decisions, but because the underlying mathematics makes it possible and a networked world makes it necessary. There will be a case in the future where no one, not even the phone’s maker, can hack in at all. We should not establish the bad precedent of compelling the production of broken software in order to achieve the very temporary security it might deliver in the present.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim MacGregor
3 years 1 month ago
RE: "We should not establish the bad precedent of compelling the production of broken software in order to achieve the very temporary security it might deliver in the present." Yes. Maybe we could concentrate instead on defeating our cyber enemies' - China, France, and Russia - ability to hack into classified Government systems.
William Rydberg
3 years 1 month ago
Don't know if anybody caught the video conference clip from the other day wherein Snowdon said that the claim that the FBI are unable to "crack" the Apple Code is b______t? One would think that as a former highly placed Security Consultant, he might have some insight? The major news Media seems to have panned the conference... The Daily beast says that Apple has unlocked phones 70 times before: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/17/apple-unlocked-iphones-for-the-feds-70-times-before.html?via=desktop&source=twitter Just wondering...
Cory Blaise
3 years 1 month ago
Should the FBI release the San Bernardino surveillance video?? Surveillance Cameras are scattered across the entire property. Apple wants to verify the official story.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Join Kirsten Powers, CNN analyst and USA Today columnist, and Rev. James Martin, S.J., Editor at Large of America Media and New York Times best-selling author, for a live show celebrating the 100th episode of Jesuitical.
America Media EventsApril 24, 2019
Most converts I know have an elevator speech on why they became Catholic. My Catholicism just sort of “happened.”
Reilly CosgroveApril 21, 2019
Pope Francis greets the crowd after delivering his Easter message and blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 21, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis prayed for victims of the attacks in Sri Lanka and called for peace, highlighting 18 conflicts around the world.
Gerard O’ConnellApril 21, 2019
Certain memories linger in our hearts with special clarity. For me, a long-ago Holy Saturday that marked the day before my reception into the Catholic Church is one of those.