On December 5th of last year, yet another mass shooting took place in San Bernardino, California. Fourteen people were killed, and the shooters were chased down and killed as well. The tragedy was labeled terrorism.
The Captain has always wondered just how secure a 4-digit number could be.
Much to my surprise, it turns out there are 10,000 possible combinations!
But that’s nothing, what with computer programs able to run through 10,000 different combinations in a matter of seconds, right?
After the 2013 leak of information by Edward Snowden demonstrating how our National Security Agency has been spying on U.S. citizens, international corporations, and even world governments, primarily through cellphone and internet transactions, Apple decided to create layers of security to protect the privacy of its customers.
One security feature is that after 10 failed attempts to enter a passcode, all data is irretrievably scrambled.
The Captain does not lock up his cellphone for that very reason!
Memory issues... 'It was too much tequila or not quite enough...'
Another security feature is that passcodes and data are encrypted so that even Apple does not have access to our personal information.
Thus, the current stand-off between Apple and the FBI.
Apple says it can’t access the cellphone.
The FBI wants Apple to create a way to by-pass its own security features so the agency can peek into the cellphone of this terrorist. The hope is that the phone can provide clues that might lead to the arrest of other terrorists and/or prevent the next such shooting.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is resisting the FBI’s request, insisting that creating a “back door” would open a veritable Pandora’s Box.
In a memo to the company, Cook explained his position: “The order would set a legal precedent that would expand the powers of the government and we simply don’t know where that would lead us. Should the government be allowed to order us to create other capabilities for surveillance purposes, such as recording conversations or location tracking? This would set a very dangerous precedent.”
The request today is about terrorism. But what will initiate the next request?
What’s more, Apple conducts business in countries around the world. Should it give in to requests by the U.S. government, it would also be obligated to give in to similar requests from other governments as well.
As the New York Times has pointed out, we don’t know how other countries would use such access. For example, in Pakistan a person can be imprisoned for being a homosexual; in Saudi Arabia, adultery is punishable by lashing or stoning. Access to personal information on a cellphone could put many people in jeopardy.
And how might China use access to the 10 million iPhones sold there in the last quarter of 2015?
The Captain wonders in what other ways might the U.S. government use such access. Our hands are not clean.
Remember that after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government ordered Japanese-Americans into detention camps for fear they might aid the enemy.
Remember that Senator Joseph McCarthy held numerous hearings in the 1950s using U.S. intelligence to ferret out Communists and Communist sympathizers.
Remember that the National Security Agency spied on and kept files on American citizens protesting the Vietnam War.
I’m pretty sure they have a file on your beloved Captain.
Remember that since 2001 – following the terrorist attacks in New York – the President granted the NSA permission to listen in on cellphone conversations around the world without an appropriate warrant, spying on American citizens, international corporations, and foreign governments.
Even our allies.
Some of that information made its way to other government agencies like the DEA and the IRS.
Do you want the U.S. government to have access to your cellphone?
Check your photos, messages, and internet search history before answering that…
But doesn’t Apple want to help combat terrorism?
Sure. We all do.
And Apple has cooperated in the past. In fact, in this current debate Apple has granted the FBI access to whatever the shooter stored in “iCloud”. But Cook refuses to create a software that would thwart Apple’s own security features.
And other tech giants are siding with Apple.
The FBI has launched a shameless publicity tour against Apple, pretending that they only want access to this one cellphone. However, other federal and local police agencies are following this case closely for the precedent it will set.
A U.S. judge last week ordered Apple to “offer reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI.
So far, Apple has not responded.
Apple wants the courts to struggle with the issue, even the Supreme Court if necessary.
But the issue to be discussed is not terrorism. It is about our right to privacy. More importantly, it’s about the eroding of the core beliefs of our nation.
Remember all those documents our Founding Fathers left for us? The Declaration of Independence… the Constitution… the Bill of Rights...? Do they still mean anything to American citizens today? Do they mean anything to the U.S. government today?
Or have they been reduced to mere movie props?
Whatever happened to our “inalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?
Whatever happened to our right “to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…”
Mostly all we hear about today is our right to bear arms. And oddly, proponents of the Second Amendment don’t want the government to know who has those guns.
A right to privacy…
Since 9/11 the U.S. government – and to a large extend the American people – has been operating out of fear rather than freedom. The looming spectre of terrorism has caused us to give away our freedoms in exchange for a false sense of security. Warrantless wiretaps, the endless detention of possible “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo without right to trial, and now this pressure on Apple to weaken the security of its product for the sake of government spying, are all the product of a people living in fear.
Simply put, the terrorists have won!
As the New York Times editorial has noted, it’s sad to see that it is a corporation valiantly defending our right to privacy instead of the government whose job it is supposed to be.
Apple is correct. We need to have this conversation. About freedom. About privacy. About the ideals this nation was founded upon.