Mark Meets World: Apple, Trump, Snowden, oh my!

Mark Feuerborn

The past week has seen a standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple over the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooters.

A federal magistrate issued a court order for Apple to assist the FBI in disabling the encryption on the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhones, which they refused on grounds that it would set a precedent for customer security override. The order requires that Apple develop a special version of the phone’s operating system, with the security features removed.

“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products,” Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, wrote in a letter to customers.

The FBI claims the software would only be used for the San Bernardino shooter, but the problem is that it obviously won’t be. Also, if the FBI can bully Apple into releasing customer secrets on the basis of national security, what’s stopping Russia and China from following suit and demanding the software for their own oppressive surveillance? America itself is getting dangerously close to Orwellian surveillance.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates also gave a statement siding with the FBI yesterday, making him one of the only tech giants to support them.

“They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case,” Gates said.

I’m a PC user, but if Gates is naïve enough to believe the FBI would simply throw this software away after their investigation I might need to switch to Apple. Donald Trump has also called for a boycott of Apple until they comply, so I hope that gets even more people to side with them just to spite him.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the FBI already has a decryption technique called chip-decapping, where a data chip from an iPhone is physically probed. The technique is painstaking, but the alternative gives the FBI software to streamline the process on anyone.

We should bring the San Bernardino shooters to justice, and it’s possible their phones have information that could prevent more attacks. According to Snowden however, the FBI already has a method to decrypt iPhones, which requires physical possession of the device. They’ve got the shooters’ phones, so one has to wonder why the FBI is pushing the issue.

We’ve got to support national security, but also defend our own personal privacy. If a “master key” is developed, it’s all over.