Ok, so there’s been a lot of hoopla over the last few days about whether or not Apple should create a piece of software that overrides its own security encryptions and allow the FBI to unlock the phone of the Terrorist who killed 14 people and injured 24 in San Bernadino, California in December 2015.
Earlier in the week, Apple was directed by Court Order to assist the FBI in their investigations into Terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone by enabling them to unlock his pin code in order to access his private iPhone data. This requires building what Apple refers to as a ‘back door’ to their own security software.
At the outset, you’d think ‘sure, of course we should give the FBI what they want, in order to put Farook and his accomplices away for the rest of their lives’. But if only it were that simple…..Apple CEO Tim Cook certainly does not agree, as you can see in the letter he wrote to the public on Tuesday which you can READ HERE if you haven’t already. In short it explains that Apple very much hates and does not condone Terrorism, but it cannot in good conscience create code that could compromise the very security that they have developed and has guaranteed to be iron clad for all of its global customers. In Tim Cook’s own words:
We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.
Cook’s view is that once you create a piece of software that compromises security for the FBI to investigate one case of Terrorism, you have opened up the door for the breach to be repeated again and again, eventually getting into the wrong hands. He says:
And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
There is a veritable hoard of dialogue happening on the web today about how that is not the case, and some say that the specifics of the request from the FBI is not actually to create a ‘back door’, although Tim Cook says in no uncertain terms that it is. But HERE is a particularly detailed analysis by Peter Bright for Ars Technica, on what the real request is based on, if you are interested enough in the technical side.
The real issue for me, however is this: if it were any of my friends or family who were injured or killed in San Bernadino, I would most definitely want the FBI to have access to whatever data or communications they needed to put the bastard away for the rest of his sad life.
Of course I don’t want the security of my personal, business or financial data, which I very much do access via my iPhone everyday, to be compromised or accessed by anyone with bad intentions. However I think we can all agree that the FBI do have the best of intentions. I don’t think that is in question.
The question of most significance for me is how we can ensure that the resulting technology never gets into the wrong hands, like Cook says it will. Of course I have no idea, beyond what I see on Mission Impossible movies, how the international security organisations go about ensuring the safe keeping of such highly sensitive material. But I would like to hope that the FBI, most likely more than any other security organisation in the world, would have appropriate measures in place to ensure it goes nowhere.
I realise it’s very easy for me given that I have nothing anywhere in my arsenal of data, photos, videos, or text messages that would be of interest to anyone in the Hendra Police department, let alone the FBI. But if I ever did have anything of this nature or if I was ever to be prone to killing people or committing acts of terrorism, I would absolutely and unconditionally want the police to be able to hack into my phone so that justice could be done.
Regardless of the public discussion that ensues, I have no doubt that the FBI will get their way and gain access to Farook’s phone. At the end of the day, I’d like to think it’s a simple case of good triumphing over evil, and even if and when the FBI get their way, that as long as you have nothing of national security to hide, it’s safe to say that the security of your iPhone data will remain intact.