You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Apple and the government don't mince words over iPhone encryption

March 7, 2016

The sparring between Cupertino and the Department of Justice continues over the San Bernadino iPhone 5c. Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post discussing the tech giant’s commitment to privacy and security, claiming that the Federal Bureau of Investigations and others in law enforcement want the iPhone maker to “turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies.”

Federighi points out that hackers, just in the past 18 months, have repeatedly broken into retail chains, banks, and even the federal government. The loot from these assaults has been credit card information, Social Security numbers, and fingerprint records of millions of people. Still, Federighi says that is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

Your phone is more than a personal device. In today’s mobile, networked world, it’s part of the security perimeter that protects your family and co-workers. Our nation’s vital infrastructure — such as power grids and transportation hubs — becomes more vulnerable when individual devices get hacked. Criminals and terrorists who want to infiltrate systems and disrupt sensitive networks may start their attacks through access to just one person’s smartphone.

- The Washington Post

Doing anything to hamper that mission would be a serious mistake.

- The Washington Post

The best-in-class encryption technology built into the iPhone, Federighi states, is there to do more than just prevent unauthorized access to the consumers’ data. It’s also a crucial defense mechanism against criminals and terrorists who might otherwise implant malware or spyware, using an unsuspecting person’s iOS device to gain access to a business, public utility, or government agency.

How has law enforcement reacted to Federighi’s comments? In a radio interview with Daily News, New York Police Department head of counter-terrorism John Miller has accused Apple of “providing aid to the kidnappers, robbers and murderers.”

I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Miller, but it just isn’t so cut and dried as you would make it seem. First of all, let’s bear in mind that some of the most vital aspects of our justice system provide just that same level of assistance to criminals, such as using tax dollars to provide them with free legal representation. Going a step further, though, the encryption within the iPhone also hampers many other criminals, including those who would conduct corporate espionage, sabotage public services and utilities, or conduct numerous other nefarious crimes.

At the core, though, the encryption protects innocent citizens from an increasingly nosy government

At the core, though, the encryption protects innocent citizens from an increasingly nosy government that has proven itself more than willing to violate the sanctity of our Fourth Amendment rights by spying on our telecommunications without probable cause.