23 May 2016

MIT Technology Review: “What if Apple is Wrong?”

Although locked smartphones have held up a small percentage of cases, Vance is convinced a law is needed before the number climbs much higher. To illustrate his point, he describes a case from 2012. A man in Manhattan was taking a video on his iPhone when he was shot and killed by someone who threatened to go after the eyewitnesses if they talked. Investigators got that video and convicted the killer. Now imagine that shooting happening today. If the victim made the video on a stand-alone digital camera, it would be fair game for cops with a warrant. Why should they be unable to see it just because he used an iPhone?

Instead, he says, Apple and Google should stop expecting special treatment not accorded to other corporations. For example, financial institutions had to build complex systems for catching money laundering and other crimes. Two companies that own 96 percent of the world’s smartphone operating systems have independently decided they’re going to choose where the line between privacy and public safety is to be drawn, Vance says. We should ask them to make the same kind of adaptations that we require banks to do.

Brian Bergstein

This battle between Apple and the FBI over the right to break into an encrypted smartphone has caused a heated debate over the past couple of months, unfortunately ending without a clear resolution, as the FBI found another way in and withdrew the formal request. I expect the issue to come up in force again and again, and this article comes very close to my own opinion. Apple’s position has been that it considers breaking the iPhone encryption ‘a slippery slope’ to more government surveillance (even though the company regularly lets law enforcement access cloud backups); but the opposite is equally true: refusing to comply with a legally issued court order is a slippery slope to granting private companies special rights in relation to democratic institutions – and in my mind this constitutes a bigger threat to free society.

L2 Founder Scott Galloway has an unpopular view on Apple’s stance against unlocking the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook for the FBI. He explains more in this podcast

As much as Apple would want to treat this as a black-and-white issue (encryption is either on or off), the truth is we don’t live in a perfect, logical world, and each problem has a degree of nuance, as you can read in the examples from the linked article. As such, this isn’t an issue that should be decided by corporation who have their own financial interests in the matter, but by the democratically elected government of each country – and many are moving in a direction that runs against what tech companies have been working for recently. Maybe the big tech companies should set aside their absolutism on this matter and start negotiating a mutually beneficial legislation.

What we’re asking for, congressman, is a debate on this. I don’t have a proposal, I don’t have a solution for it, Mr Sewell said. But Mr Sensenbrenner responded that unless Apple provided some concrete suggestions, I don’t think you are going to like what comes out of Congress.

Geoff Dyer & Tim Bradshaw

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