In response to “Tim Cook’s Bad Apple.” Feb 22, Wall Street Journal, L Gordon Crovitz.
It’s a pretty cool moment in history when you, me, and whoever can shell out for a $400 consumer device can keep a secret from the largest superpower on earth. Mr. Crovitz doesn’t agree. He sides with the United States Government in arguing that the company should be forced, under the All Writs Act, to program software to bypass user-generated security measures.
Mr. Crovitz argues that Apple’s actual concern is its business and brand, and not the security of iPhone users. This is a false dilemma. Certainly Apple would like to protect its business. But if Apple’s wildly successful business is based on promising iPhone users a secure and private service, then Tim Cook is appropriately representing his customers’ concerns on this issue. This is the free market working as intended — individually powerless consumers punch well above their weight by funding businesses that reflect their concerns.
Mr. Crovitz is not concerned that programming a backdoor for this iPhone would result in any danger to the security of data on other iPhones. Why not? This case is not unique. If the Justice Department successfully compels Apple to write a back door for Syed Farook’s iPhone, it sets a precedent that will force Apple (and other device makers) to do the same in any number of other cases, not just those that implicate national security.
And it’s not just government snoops that you ought to worry about. A backdoor intended for the government can be exploited by hackers. For example, there’s some evidence that the United States government collaborated with private industry to create a backdoor into an operating system for hardware network devices. A group of hackers then used the existing backdoor to build a backdoor of their own, and very likely read a bunch of encrypted traffic. The same could happen here.
The Justice Department must have dreamed of ready access to our private data for years. It waited to force the issue until the perfect case arose: Syed Farook, a Muslim terrorist mass murderer operating within the United States. The government chose this moment wisely, knowing that national security concerns might lead the public to overlook the long-term consequences of forcing private industry to open a backdoor for the government.