The FBI’s Hunt for an iPhone Pandora’s Box

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.” — Tim Cook, open letter to the Courts

The rise of radical terrorism in the Western world and the bitter reality of Lone Wolf attacks is a reasonable fear to all people. Statistically, the odds of any of us being killed in such attacks is improbably low, but this does little to quell the fear in all of our minds. Post 9/11, most American’s have had a reasonable fear that we never know when and where an attack may happen on our soil. In response to these fears, most people turned a blind eye to the passing of bills like The Patriot Act. When the NSA was caught spying on most citizens, very few were outraged and a majority of American’s said they were just fine with it.

While at first the prospect of our government looking over our shoulders to protect us from the frightening shadows of the night may be reassuring, it is a wolf in sheep skin at best. A government trusted to have unlimited and wide-reaching data on every citizen is a dangerous enterprise that may one day use its powers against its own people. The striking thing about all of this is how convicted to “Freedom” most American’s try to position themselves. How often do we hear the argument that you can’t take guns because that would directly inhibit our freedom? how often is there an argument about how the government has no business in our medical records or what we do in the privacy of our own homes?

Yet when terrorism is presented, all rights and pragmatic thought flies out the window. People are not only letting the government have access to the very things they protest, they are permissive of it with limited accountability and questioning. This is why Apple’s approach to the FBI demands is so critical to the preservation of privacy and, ultimately, freedom.

As Tim Cook pointed out in his open letter, the request the FBI is making has unlimited and wide-reaching implications for every user of an Apple device. Such software would undermine the fundamental security Apple cooks into its devices and offer no assurances of a single-use install. Once this is created, a Pandora’s Box would be opened on all devices that apple currently manufactures. Starting with this basic request, the Government would be able to test Apple’s ability to backdoor its hardware and then insist they do it moving forward in a variety of cases.

Beyond just the wide-reaching implications of an Orwellian Government with snooping powers, basic privacy and security has to be considered. Any backdoor intentionally crafted and baked into software would ultimately leave a vulnerability for illicit attacks as well. There is simply no such thing as a “good guy” backdoor to software, no matter what the government and its three-letter agencies have to say about it.

Imagine that you were told to leave a hidden door unlocked in your house just in case the government needed to stop in. Every home would have this hidden door often in the same place, because this would be designed in advance of every new home ever made. You have no subsequent way to wall off or block this door, nor do you have a key to lock or unlock it at your own will. Now imagine that eventually criminals become familiar with these entry points and, realizing you have no control over them, begin to break into your home, taking your personal belongings whenever they please. This is the digital equivalent of what the FBI is asking Apple to build into your phone.

While the San Bernardino shooting was a tragic event that further highlights the risks of crazed radicals on our homeland, it cannot be used as the basis for us to turn over more privacy and personal data. Despite what people like Donald Trump are screaming about patriotic duties, the real patriot here is Apple and CEO Tim Cook. Seeing what could become a spiralling scenario of government overreach, data theft, and consumer confidence hits; Apple is taking the logical step of pushing back against a dangerous and legally questionable request. They are addressing the tunnel vision of the FBI for what it is and trying to brighten the rest of the path so they see the hidden risks, too. These risks span beyond just one incident of backdoor software and could impact every user in a disparate way in the future. Apple is also trying to make the government understand that backdoors have zero guarantees on stopping illicit users from exploiting them, further damaging consumer privacy and confidence down the line.

As the world becomes increasingly more digital, governments will have to find newer and more dynamic ways to try and collect data on terrorists. However, there should never be a circumstance where the average citizen takes a hit on their privacy, security, and personal space to ensure the three-letter agencies can do this… Every bit of privacy we give up for security should ensure us that we receive neither.

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