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Apple, Public Safety And Selling Stuff

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Apple, Public Safety And Selling Stuff

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The Apple logo is pictured behind the clock at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York

Federal investigators hold the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the terrorist who helped slaughter 14 innocents in San Bernardino, California. They want to look at its contents but can’t because the device is encrypted and Apple has refused to unlock it.

The matter ended up in federal court, where a magistrate judge ordered Apple to hack Farook’s cellphone. Apple has rejected the judge’s order, citing privacy concerns.

Apple is in the wrong. As Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance points out, the government’s case rests on centuries of law holding that “no item — not a home, not a file cabinet and not a smartphone — lies beyond the reach of a judicial search warrant.”

There exists no “right of privacy” to withhold evidence of a crime. The idea that the cellphone is a privileged communications device that must be off-limits to law enforcement is nonsense.

The court’s not telling Apple to create what one critic of the judge’s order called a “design defect,” a backdoor that puts all users in danger of being hacked by identity thieves and other creeps. It has ordered Apple to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation get into a single iPhone.

To do this, Apple must create a hacking tool, which, some fret, could get into the wrong hands. But the decrypting could be done on Apple property by Apple people — and the tool kept in Apple’s famously secure vault.

While Apple’s stance is unacceptable, it is understandable from a limited business point of view. Apple worries that if it gives U.S. law enforcement access to encrypted cellphones, countries less sensitive to civil liberties would demand the same. Places like China and Russia could grab the technology for widespread use against their citizens. China is Apple’s second biggest market after the United States.

U.S. tech companies and civil libertarians are supporting Apple’s stance. Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology expressed some of the fears. Cellphones “have become effectively a part of our bodies,” she wrote. Hers has contacts, medical records, kids’ report cards, pictures and so forth.

All the more reason not to carry all that information around in one’s handbag, we might say. But even if a master key for unlocking iPhones got on the loose, the brutes would still need to possess the physical iPhone and spend perhaps years trying to get past a strong password.

Full-disclosure time. Your writer is a voracious consumer of Apple products and an investor in Apple Inc. stock. She’s not selling her shares for the following reasons:

Before the recent iPhone decryption debate, China was already demanding a backdoor to its citizens’ computers and phones. Chinese consumers know the score.

And there are American sensibilities to consider. FBI Director James Comey spoke for many when he said national policy on confronting terrorism should not be left to “corporations that sell stuff for a living.” It shouldn’t matter how cool the stuff is.

Victims of the San Bernardino attack are filing a legal brief supporting the U.S. government’s position. And for what it’s worth, Donald Trump has called for a boycott of Apple products if the company does not cooperate.

No one said that drawing a line between privacy and security is simple — and new technology keeps moving that blurred border. But Comey is right. The job of setting national security priorities has not been outsourced to Silicon Valley boardrooms. It is a matter for our federal government.

Dear Apple: Frustrating efforts to track terrorists is not a great marketing strategy. Your wisest move would be to make some noise and then help the FBI break into a terrorist’s iPhone.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: The Apple logo is pictured behind the clock at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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13 Comments

  1. FireBaron February 23, 2016

    Here is the difference between reality and fantasy. If this were an episode of NCIS or NCIS-LA, either Abby or the “wonder twins” would have hacked the encryption and told Gibbs or Kallen every call and text Farook ever made. As this is reality we now know that the FBI does not have access to the tools nor the skills needed to break that encryption.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bass February 23, 2016

      “I’m Shocked, Shocked, I say, gambling in MY establishment?”

      Are you telling me NCIS isn’t real? Darn, another dashed dream…

      Reply
      1. JPHALL February 23, 2016

        Do you honestly believe the NSA is not working on a way to extract info on encrypted phones and computers? They just have not done it yet. Symantec has already offered to do the job for the FBI.

        Reply
        1. Paul Bass February 24, 2016

          No, I think they are already spying on everything, Ed Snowden showed us that.

          Reply
  2. johninPCFL February 23, 2016

    “Federal investigators hold the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the terrorist who helped slaughter 14 innocents in San Bernardino, California. They want to look at its contents but can’t because the device is encrypted and Apple has refused to unlock it.”

    The iPhone is locked because the government of San Bernardino explicitly requested a password reset. Incompetence or part of a plan?

    “There exists no “right of privacy” to withhold evidence of a crime. The idea that the cellphone is a privileged communications device that must be off-limits to law enforcement is nonsense.”

    Correct. What “probable cause” exists on the phone to prevent Farook from committing crimes in the future? Oh yeah, none. He’s dead.

    “The court’s not telling Apple to create what one critic of the judge’s order called a “design defect,” a backdoor that puts all users in danger of being hacked by identity thieves and other creeps. It has ordered Apple to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation get into a single iPhone.”

    No. It has ordered Apple to create a new version of IOS that has no encryption and a tool to download iPhones that doesn’t erase all of the data on them. Also, since the DOJ is paying for the new version of IOS and the tools, it will own them and can download them into any phone they chose.

    “To do this, Apple must create a hacking tool, which, some fret, could get into the wrong hands. But the decrypting could be done on Apple property by Apple people — and the tool kept in Apple’s famously secure vault.”

    No, because this breaks the “chain of custody” and renders any data unusable in court. If not to support court cases, why is it the DOJ and not Homeland Security?

    “All the more reason not to carry all that information around in one’s handbag, we might say. But even if a master key for unlocking iPhones got on the loose, the brutes would still need to possess the physical iPhone and spend perhaps years trying to get past a strong password.”

    Once again, not what they’ve demanded. It would take minutes at most to unlock any phone, and since the phone can be updated via wireless connection, there is no guarantee that the technology can’t be further “enhanced” in a government lab somewhere to provide “unlock and grab” capability anywhere.

    “Dear Apple: Frustrating efforts to track terrorists is not a great marketing strategy. Your wisest move would be to make some noise and then help the FBI break into a terrorist’s iPhone.”

    No, once again not what’s demanded. The terrorist is dead and what they’re asking for is the general way to get into any iPhone on whatever pretense they can dream up at any time in the future.

    Reply
    1. Kurt CPI February 23, 2016

      Yes. Someone who gets it!

      Reply
  3. Godzilla February 23, 2016

    “To do this, Apple must create a hacking tool,

    Sad to say that the government has zero authority to force anyone or any company to CREATE anything. Liberal’s of course, can’t understand that this order violates the 13th Amendment.

    Reply
  4. Steve V February 23, 2016

    Franklin was right; by giving up privacy for security, you deserve neither.

    Reply
  5. Paul Bass February 23, 2016

    Liable to be tracked by the feds for this but I’m totally with Apple on this issue, two words.

    Edward Snowden.

    Reply
  6. 1Zoe55 February 23, 2016

    As I understand it, Apple already knows what we buy, when we buy it and all sorts of our personal information. What’s to stop Apple from selling this information? Oh wait, it does just that. One cannot expect complete privacy when your information is out the front door and for sale.

    Reply
    1. Kurt CPI February 23, 2016

      That’s a completely different argument. Apple, Google, Ask, Yahoo, etc. all gather information when you use their web services. If you don’t understand that the WWW is a PUBLIC forum, it’s time you wised up. Like a conversation in a restaurant, what you say, post, search, or otherwise present on the Internet is fair game for anyone to cares to listen. Legal access ends where your browser begins – at your computer. The information on the user side of your cable modem is protected. Harvesting that information is the realm of virus, spyware and other malware. That’s where encryption plays such an important part in protecting your privacy. Go ahead and download encrypted files – you’ll never read them. But if the FBI has their way, they will be able to. They have no right to that information. That’s what the Constitution guarantees and that’s the way it should stay.

      Reply
  7. Paul Bass February 23, 2016

    Froma,
    I have always valued your opinion, but on this I just don’t get it. It appears you are WITH the GOP and all those who want to remove our civil liberties, I’m disappointed.

    Reply
  8. Kurt CPI February 23, 2016

    This contains some very important errata, or a least fails to explain what Apple is being asked to do. The FBI isn’t giving the iPhone to Apple to recover encrypted files. It is asking Apple to “Help” them crack the encryption. They want to be involved in the process – essentially learn how to crack the encryption on iPhones. Where it’s true that a warrant can compel the safe of a bona fide suspect in a criminal investigation to be opened, I doubt there’s any precedent that would require the company that built a safe to divulge how to crack their entire line of products. And of course the governmant (NSA) never collects private information without a warrant, right? So why should we worry? Let’s give them the keys to the kingdom without question – NOT! Kudos to Apple for sticking to their guns on this. I don’t believe there would be any issue at all if the FBI would simply permit Apple to attempt to decrypt the data on that single phone. Asking them to break faith with law-abiding citizens whose Constitution guarantees a right to reasonable privacy and protection from search and seizure is, IMHO, an unconstitutional request. If the FBI intends to pursue their quest in this fashion, it very well could end up at the Supreme Court.

    Reply

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