Right to Encryption?

I do believe we, as citizens of the United States, have a right to encryption. At a high level, you could describe encryption as a form of privacy. The ability to prevent other people from reading private messages between yourself and your family, friends, colleagues, etc. definitely falls under the category of privacy. In this day and age, the process which ensures that ability generally requires encryption because so much of our communication is done via networks that are susceptible to unwanted listeners. It is true that we knowingly take that risk each time we send a text message or e-mail, especially if it contains sensitive material. However, should we not be able to minimize our risk by utilizing advance encryption software developed by companies that specialize in this area? I certainly believe every American has the right to purchase a product that further enhances their ability to protect that unalienable right to privacy, and I extend that position to support companies that develop encryption algorithms which help to separate the average consumer from hackers with criminal motivations.

As you can see, I believe encryption is an important topic that should be debated. I value the ability to protect my data because between nearly everyone I communicate with and myself there exists bits of information representing our conversation someone on a server. As a result, I ardently support the use of encryption despite having nothing to hide. Even though I have a clean record and don’t partake in criminal communication, I still have no desire to accept vulnerabilities in the technology that I use which could allow someone to take a peek at my private life. I would say my stance on encryption is predominantly social. I believe the idea of privacy is a social issue and natural aggregation of humans in societies creates dialog and intrigues some members to participate in dialog without permission. I suppose this means I am financially in favor of supporting companies like Apple, Google, and smaller information security providers. On the other hand, I oppose the political stance that decrypting devices should be mandatory for companies on the basis of a judge claiming that national security is at risk, especially after the fact. I do hope, sometime in the near future, companies like Apple and organizations like the FBI can find a way to cooperatively gather evidence in important cases without posing a threat to many Americans’ right to privacy.

In my opinion, the fight between national security and individual privacy will not be settled anytime soon. I find it interesting that the Republican and Democratic stances on this particular issue are somewhat aligned The majority of both parties is demanding that Apple develop the backdoor and provide the evidence the FBI needs because the actions of Syed Farook are classified as terrorism. Particularly, I am surprised that so many Republicans are in favor of extending the government’s reach. The GOP typically opposes anything related to the expansion of government powers, but it seems as though the threat of terrorism exceeds the desire for small government and has aligned many Republicans with policies that hinder certain features of capitalism!

Personally, I will continue to support the viewpoint of protecting individual liberties. However, I will avoid making the claim that “individual liberty > national security.” I don’t believe Apple’s encryption poses a threat to national security in any way. The existence of Farook’s iPhone encryption is not what allowed him to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil. I think other factors involved were more important to his success, but I am open to discussion.


Letter to the Editor

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



I am a supporter of Apple’s decision to refuse to comply with the FBI’s request for a backdoor into iOS. If Apple were to cooperate with the FBI, our government would then wield a tool similar to Harry Potter’s Expelliarmus with the power to disarm Americans by filing some paperwork. While the intended purpose may be to protect national security, the legal precedents being employed by the Department of Justice are outdated. I see a major flaw in the government’s use of a law enacted in 1789, the All Writs Act. In 1789, cybersecurity did not even exist, so how can we justify using a legal precedent from centuries ago to discern appropriate actions regarding a modern issue. If the All Writs Act indeed provides enough power to civil magistrates, then should we start applying other 1789 laws to contemporary cases. I certainly don’t think any government officials would agree with that…

Protecting national security can be a powerful phrase when trying to garner support for a controversial decision. While I see the obvious benefits of accessing a terrorist’s means of communication, I would like to push back on the idea that forcing Apple to provide decryption capabilities to the FBI truly protects national security. Earlier this week, I read a blog by Mark Cuban and he made a good point – there is no assurance that a successful hack into Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone would provide any investigative material. If Farook used sophisticated cryptic communication with his terrorist network, the FBI could take years to crack the code. There is also the possibility that Farook used a 3rd party application with its own encryption methods which is not unusual for a terrorist. On the other hand, if Apple develops a decryption method and the software is obtained by any of the talented hackers around the world – national security is certainly at risk. My question for the government would have to be – is the potential for making all iPhone users in the United States vulnerable to the vast criminally minded hacker community worth the possibility of uncovering evidence regarding the San Bernardino shootings?

I consider myself a conservative citizen, but I am not a person who greatly mistrusts the powers of government. However, in this case I do fear the repercussions of a legal precedent that grants government agencies the ability to access any targeted individual’s communication with a search warrant. I don’t use any 3rd party apps with strong encryption and I don’t have anything to hide, but I am not comfortable with the government having the power to access any conversation I take part in, with the exception being a letter I request the recipient to burn after reading. The problem with this power isn’t singularly related to the government obtaining it, but also derived from Bruce Schneier’s argument:

Either everyone gets access or no one does.

Essentially, if the government can hack our phones, then so can anyone smart enough to mimic or illegally obtain the decryption software. Also, the potential for blackmail, spying, and invasion of privacy is too great to justify this action. If you really want to cause a fuss, you could make this a human rights issue. At what point does the government’s reach extend beyond our unalienable rights… if that point is reached we must strip the qualifier unalienable and replace it with conditionalswanson.

My last grievance towards the requested compliance of Apple relates to the coercive nature of this decision. Apple dominates the high end market by developing an impressive suite of gadgets and software which includes their robust encryption. In a free market system, the government cannot be allowed to force a company to essentially nullify one of the greatest strengths of their product. In Apple’s case, this strength is security. I made the switch to Mac from PC because I was tired of dealing with viruses slowing down my computer (admittedly, I should have stopped using LimeWire). If Apple is forced to weaken their security, how can they retain pursuit of providing the highest quality product in the market? In the words of Ron Swanson, “capitalism is the only way.”