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Why the FBI’s Request to Apple Will Affect Civil Rights For a Generation

2016.02.17 17:55 PT

[ Macworld ] Rich Mogull:

But the truth is, no legal case applies in a vacuum. If this goes through, if Apple is forced to assist, it will open a floodgate of law enforcement requests. Then what about civil cases? Opening a phone to support a messy divorce and child custody battle? Or what about requests from other nations, especially places like China and the UAE that already forced BlackBerry and others to compromise the security of their customers?

And once the scale of these requests increases, as a security professional I guarantee the tools will leak, the techniques will be exploited by criminals, and our collective security will decline. It really doesn’t matter if it’s the iPhone 5c or 6s. It really doesn’t matter if this is about dead terrorists or a drug dealer. It doesn’t matter what specific circumvention Apple is being asked to create.

What matters is if we have a right to the security and privacy of our devices, and of our communications, which are also under assault. If we have the right to tools to defend ourselves from the government and criminals alike. Yes, these tools will be sometimes used for the worst of crimes, but they’re also fundamental to our civil rights, freedom of discourse, and our ability to protect our digital lives from the less impactful, but far more frequent criminal attacks.

This situation was engineered by the FBI and Department of Justice for the maximum impact and chances of success. Apple is fighting, and as a security professional it’s my obligation to support their position, and stronger security.

In this broken, imperfect world we live in, if Apple is compelled to develop a special iOS version to enable the FBI to bruteforce crack the iPhone 5c used in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, it is more than likely that Rich Mogull is right: like yeast is to unleavened bread, if Apple is forced the number of law enforcement requests will increase exponentially and permeate throughout. And that tool will eventually get into the wrong hands.

Unless a legally-binding agreement is forged by Apple and the FBI with strict limits: limit to this one incident (nano-coat a single yeast, cut off any possibility it can spread, no precedent), limit the special iOS version to the particular iPhone 5c, and a time limit to an eventual self-destruction of the special iOS.