— Back when the first battle between Apple and the FBI emerged on the subject of data unlocking occurred, I had written several missives around this issue.
My opinion was then, as it is now, that Apple should have cooperated with the FBI and assisted them to retrieve the requested data to see if there is any incriminating evidence. Apple refused, citing 1) they do not have the ability to unlock the phone (which I thought was nonsense), 2) if they could, they would not because it would be a violation of privacy policies, and 3) it would compromise their OS integrity across the board.
I am not going to rehash the issue here because my position has not changed. Basically, my argument was, and is, that any such data should be treated as any other potential evidence (video, recorded conversations, wiretaps, etc.). Just because it is contained in a mobile device does not alter the basic premise that evidence should be accessible under legitimate conditions. Data is regularly retrieved from other types of computers, is it not? And, there is as much private data on these devices as a phone, on any given day.
We have many safeguards in place when it comes to evidence gathering and it makes no sense that digital data has any more, or less, special privileges than any other potential evidence. Privacy is a big thing, nowadays. However, it seems the arguments over privacy morph to suit the particular case. That, however, is a discussion for another day.
Back in 2015 when the San Bernardino, California, incident occurred, it brought to the center of the radar screen, the central issue of privacy versus evidence. That was in the days of the Obama administration. I do not recall that administration getting into the fray. Conversely, this administration has seen fit to tell Apple what to do.
I find this objectionable. This president has shown us, over and over, what a busybody he is when it comes to issues that are not really significant enough to warrant Presidential concern. The nuances of privacy vs. evidence are way over the head of the current administration and it should be left to the powers that understand its complexity. Trump, and now his attorney general, William Barr, hear something and suddenly, they are experts in what everybody is supposed to do.
What makes this even worse is the implication that Apple owes this administration, and it is “demanding” that Apple salute smartly and say “yes sir, happy to pay back the favor!” Hmmm… seems we have come to a place in this political environment where it is not about what is right, but about favors and payback – the kind where we have treated you special so now you must return the favor. And if you do not, it will affect how we treat you in the future – my, what an upstanding and moral compass this administration has.
I guess since Trump can blackmail the Ukrainian government by threatening to withhold aid, he believes the same tactic will work with U.S. companies. He implied that since he is helping Apple and giving them dispensation (although so far what I have seen is not all that impressive) on trade and so many other issues, they are supposed to roll over and obey his every whim.
What continues to bother me (and I am not alone) is how woefully ignorant Trump and Barr (and most other legislators) are when it comes to technology. Rather than pass the baton to those that understand this, they believe it is as simple as saying it and it will come to pass.
In the end, I must side with the government on this one, empirically, but not without reservation of methodology – not the approach, but the principle. On the other hand, I understand the implications of giving the government, especially this administration, ANY capabilities to access private data, especially what it is asking Apple to do concerning back doors.
The administration’s demand is that Apple create a “back door” that “authorized” agencies have access to – bad idea (see my article on back doors in fall 2019 issue of Applied Wireless Technology; www.aglmediagroup.com/?s=backdoors).
I must agree with Apple that such a solution would weaken the code and allow for all kinds of other bad actors to get into the game.
It is time to revisit how such data plays in the criminal and legal arenas. Some say that this data is no different than any other type of evidence and comes under present evidence gathering rules and regulations. Others say that such data, and the way it is collected requires new policies since it is more tightly bound to private and critical data than typical evidence vectors (video surveillance and phone taps, for example).
No matter how this evolves, however, it is NOT a good idea to open any doors to governmental access directly (i.e. allowing them to access the data versus a third party extracting it) – especially this administration. I think it is time for data repositories to revisit ways to unpack data so that if there is data that becomes critical evidence in nefarious activities, it can be provided without compromising other private and secure data within the data pack.