The San Bernardino massacre last December has laid bare a growing conflict in our global world between security and privacy. In the current Apple vs. FBI conflict, the FBI wants to decrypt suspects’ phones, to learn of terrorist contacts. Digg offers an explanation:

Late on Tuesday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook published “A Message to Our Customers,” taking a defensive stance against a court order that would force Apple to ease decryption of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. The battle is just the most recent series of events in a drawn-out war over national security and encryption between tech companies and the government.

As the Guardian explains,

In 2014, Apple began making iPhones with additional encryption software that they said they couldn’t unlock, even if faced with a court order … Sheri Pym, the federal judge, has ordered Apple not to turn off its encryption but to make it easier for federal agents to randomly guess the suspects’ iPhone passcode.

Analyst Lance Ulanoff offers an explanation at Mashable: “If Apple loses to the FBI, we’re all screwed.”

… if the terrorist used the iOS security option that wipes the phone after 10 consecutive failed log-in attempts, that information will be lost forever.

The FBI believes Apple can build a firmware upgrade that will prevent the phone from performing a data wipe and make it easier to crack the passcode. Now a judge is ordering Apple to comply.

That would currently take 5.5 years.

Apple CEO Tim White sent a message to all customers:

Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

He added,

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

And the “anyone” could be within government or without.

Apple has sometimes allowed decryption in the past, but is now showing understandable newfound reluctance, and the case could end up at the Supreme Court.

This is an issue that citizens must wrestle with privately before voting.

My own view (it seems fair to give one at this point) is this: If government were simply and solely a force for righteousness, that might be one thing. But does anyone who has been paying any attention actually believe that about governments today?

The government of Quebec, Canada, proposes to allow falsification of death certificates for euthanasia (at the same time as euthanasia of the incompetent is being promoted), and the government of Queensland, Australia, proposes to forbid therapy for people who would prefer not to be gay (how did that become government business?).

Sometimes governments crack down on sex criminals, and other times they collude to hide their crimes.

Generally speaking, secular governments today lack any reliable moral centre. One can’t even predict what they will think up next.

Whatever the costs may be of denying them decryption rights, the costs of allowing them may be greater.

See also: The internet: Privacy fights back It’s worse than we thought. But is Privategrity the answer?


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...