To the Editor of the Observer:
Recently, the FBI has requested that Apple develop a backdoor into their encryption software so attempts can be made to unlock terrorist Syed Farook’s iPhone without potential loss of information. Currently, the FBI faces a dilemma because they do not have an adequate strategy to break into Farook’s phone because the version of iOS installed will erase the encrypted data after repeated incorrect guesses. In addition, the FBI finds itself very near the border of human rights and Apple, a progressive technology company, wants no part in helping the FBI cross that border.
This letter will present a defense for Apple’s position and advocate that Observer articles covering this event do the same. While pursuit of justice for Syed Farook’s abominable acts of terrorism should not be obstructed, a fear of terrorism should not influence decisions regarding legislation that violates the right to privacy. We do not believe that Apple’s refusal to create a backdoor is an obstruction of justice. Rather, we support Apple’s decision on the basis that they are protecting our right to privacy by denying the FBI a backdoor to all iPhones.
The implications of a security backdoor for the iPhone should be examined closely when choosing a side of this debate. Once software is created, it exists. As noted by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, Apple is certainly not writing code on paper they can be burned in the fire once the FBI is done hacking Farook’s phone. If the code Apple creates for the FBI were to get into the wrong hands, then millions of iPhone users around the world would be vulnerable to a loss of privacy. We align our concern with the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who suggests that creating one master key that can turn millions of locks around the world is a dangerous proposition. As citizens, who can we trust to hold a key that powerful?
Also, do we truly believe the FBI and other investigative authorities plan on letting Apple destroy code that could potentially uncover evidence in major crimes? No, plenty of authorities such as the Manhattan District Attorney have phones lined up to be unlocked by Apple’s backdoor software. While the idea of uncovering evidence in many cases is attractive, this is only one potential consequence. There are many inevitable consequences that seemed to be ignored – security risks, extending government capabilities, and flooding requests for Apple to decrypt iPhones for less serious cases. I stress “potential consequence” because Syed Farook and his terrorist network could have certainly been utilizing a third party application with its own encryption algorithm that would render the Apple backdoor useless.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the threat this mandate poses to innovation. One of the most lucrative results of capitalism is the increasingly complex technology companies produce in order to remain competitive in a packed market. Apple targets a high end segment which requires their product to be superior to similar products in multiple areas. A significant strength of the Apple suite of products is reliable security features that ensure consumers their data is protected. When the government begins passing legislation that inhibits companies from maximizing the quality of their products, advances in technology will decelerate; thus, end users and the government will also be on the losing end.
In short, we advocate that the Observer support Apple in its efforts to stand up against government action that reaches too far. Let us not fear terrorism so much that we accept invasive legislation by our own government.
Zachary LeBlanc and Matt McKenzie