Are they that stupid in Washington? It depends upon who you ask, but stupidity is not the issue with Apple vs. the F.B.I. Government officials and technologists the world over know that even if they receive an official backdoor to encrypted devices from Apple, Google, or whomever for whatever, that terrorists, criminals, and hackers will move on to encrypted applications to communicate or store incriminating information.
Why bother with Apple at all?
Think of Apple and the iPhone as the front door. Once the F.B.I. (or anyone else) gains access through the front door they have access to everything else in your home. A terrorist’s iPhone may become accessible, but what about the encrypted applications they use that are installed on the iPhone?
WhatsApp is a good example.
WhatsApp is a cross-platform mobile messaging app. Think of it as cost free texting to anyone, anywhere, fully encrypted, with no open backdoor access for the F.B.I. or anyone else.
Well, sort of.
If you use WhatsApp to send texts messages and the F.B.I. gains access to your iPhone, then they have access to WhatsApp and all your messages.
App developers are working diligently to lock down their individual apps so they won’t just open up to any F.B.I. agent who gains access to your iPhone. Think of 1Password for iOS. It has options that enable Touch ID and require a password to open and use the app itself. 1Password requires a password to open. Without a password (or, for iPhone, no fingerprint for Touch ID) and there’s no access to the encrypted data inside.
Encrypted apps with no backdoor access. That’s where this is doing. Apple, Google, Facebook, app developers, and many tech titans are working to apply encryption to other user products. The race is on.
The question seldom being asked by lawmakers or government officials is this:
If backdoor access to encrypted data and communications on all devices is granted to authorities, will such access prohibit terrorists, criminals, and hackers from using their devices to communicate with each other or to harbor incriminating evidence?
The answer is ‘no.’
If the answer is no then why bother with obtaining a backdoor to an encrypted iPhone? It’s because the world doesn’t behave in a binary manner. Authorities want the path of least resistance. Terrorists, criminals, and hackers are not always smart and may make a mistake and not use an encrypted app, which opens themselves up for discovery and prosecution.
President Obama says we cannot be absolutist about this issue? Encryption, though, is binary. It either works and protects information or it does not. There is no middle ground, and governments and law enforcement officials have shown they cannot be trusted with supposedly secure information any more than criminals. Oh, and the president, by siding with the F.B.I. is taking an absolutist position.
Remember the T.S.A.’s master luggage keys? Anyone can get them. Here in New York authorities have master keys for every elevator in the city to be used only for firefighters, law enforcement personnel, building owners, and inspectors, and it’s unlawful for anyone else to have one, yet they can be purchased online for $8.
Simply put, the government and law enforcement authorities in any country cannot be trusted with backdoor keys to encrypted devices or apps, and even if they could, terrorists, criminals, and hackers will still be able to use encryption to communicate and hide information.
Make no mistake about this issue. The F.B.I. and other government agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere, want unfettered access to our personal and private communications and information and will not stop this quest until they achieve their Orwellian objectives. Yet, even with access to every iPhone or Android smartphone or personal computer on the planet they cannot guarantee that terrorists, criminals, and hackers will be stopped.
It’s the first war without end and warmongers love it.