Apple Just Made The World Safer For Terrorists

Has it become un-American to want to catch the bad guys? Think hard about this lede from a Washington Post story titled, “Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for police, even with search warrants“:

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.

I would guess that bit of news warms the hearts of terrorists everywhere, not to mention other criminals who can now avail themselves of the latest technology knowing there is a greatly reduced risk of getting caught via the use of smartphones. Apple, and no doubt other tech companies will follow its lead, couldn’t help the good guys even if it wanted to. To hell with law enforcement, we Americans demand our privacy!

Or do we? We routinely give corporations, like Google and Facebook, lots and lots of information about ourselves, which they use to make money. Most people don’t think twice about sharing that information. And once it is in the hands of these non-government entities that exploit our generosity, then we no longer have control of it. And we do all of this voluntarily.

Yet, many people almost lost their minds, not to mention their faith in good government, when it was revealed, through illegal leaks by Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency was conducting electronic surveillance and going to court to force tech companies to turn over data that might help take the terror out of terrorism. I argued with some of those people on this blog. One would have thought all hope for the future was lost just because the government was doing what it is supposed to do: helping to protect us against bad people.

It is certainly true that since the dawn of smartphones, more than five years ago, people have increasingly used them to store all sorts of information, some of it intensely private. And it is certainly true that Americans should expect such information to remain invisible to government eyes, unless there is a compelling reason to examine it. The Supreme Court earlier this year rightly decided that the police had to have a search warrant to gather data from mobile devices. Now, after Apple’s announcement, that ruling will soon be as out-of-date as, well, landline phones. Ten thousand court orders won’t do any good. Apple has blinded itself and done so on purpose. And its inability to see means the government can’t see either:

Ronald T. Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, called the move by Apple “problematic,” saying it will contribute to the steady decrease of law enforcement’s ability to collect key evidence — to solve crimes and prevent them. The agency long has publicly worried about the “going dark” problem, in which the rising use of encryption across a range of services has undermined government’s ability to conduct surveillance, even when it is legally authorized.

“Our ability to act on data that does exist . . . is critical to our success,” Hosko said. He suggested that it would take a major event, such as a terrorist attack, to cause the pendulum to swing back toward giving authorities access to a broad range of digital information.

Given what Apple has done, it is hard to see how that pendulum can swing back. The world is now a lot safer for the bad guys, especially terrorists who use smartphones for recruitment and planning attacks. Those wonderful little devices we all carry around with us are now, for a select few, much better weapons than ever.

isis phone

11 Comments

  1. ”Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Ben Franklin.
    It seems, Duane, many of your posts of late indicate a sharp turn back to the right. That should please Anson anyway.

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    • I don’t consider it a turn to the right, my friend. I consider it a principle of liberalism to be secure in our own country. Also, as a believer in government, I consider it the government’s job to keep its people safe from foreign enemies. I don’t know how that came to be a “conservative” principle, but it is time, as far as I’m concerned, that liberals take it back from them. We can’t have a good and decent society if we unnecessarily–that’s a key word here–expose ourselves to people who mean to destroy us. That doesn’t mean we have to surrender our liberty in favor of some out-of-control surveillance state. There are many safeguards in place and they should remain. And in a genuinely free society there are always risks, given our love of liberty, that the bad guys will exploit it. We can’t prevent every attack and still remain free. I’m not saying we should wrap ourselves up so tight that we lose our freedoms. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t throw away a tool that can be used, with minimal disruption (even less than minimal) to our everyday liberties, to track down and stop the bad guys.

      As for Franklin’s quote, it is, of course, absurd on its face. Even in his day there was the giving up of “a little liberty to gain a little security.” A “society” isn’t even possible without exchanging at least some liberty for security. In fact, liberty is only possible in a state that is secure, that is, one that protects the rights of people so they can enjoy their liberty. Anarchy is not liberty but its opposite.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m just messin’ with you. Sorry. The balance is a difficult one to achieve, certainly. Our present “surveillance state” has predictably helped orchestrate an overreaction from Apple. Perhaps. As a normally pro-government guy I’m pretty disappointed in how we’ve given too much control to our spy agencies. I understand Apple’s decision. So do you. I hope they will find a way to compromise just enough to get it right.

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        • You shouldn’t kid a kidder!

          Agreed, though. I hope they do get it right. To some extent Apple is overreacting to the mostly potential danger of electronic surveillance, although without proper oversight things can go to hell real quickly. I certainly understand that, and, uh, so do you!

          By the way, I would argue a bit with your use of the word “control” in “we’ve given too much control to our spy agencies.” They should have zero control in my opinion. The control should be in the hands of our elected leaders and the courts. To the extent they have real control, we are in trouble. I guess I just don’t see them as being out of control at this point, which, apparently, is what distinguishes me from my fellow libs out there. I’ve seen nothing revealed yet that I didn’t already figure was going on, particularly with foreign surveillance.

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        • By “they” in, “To the extent they have real control, we are in trouble,” I mean, of course, the spy agencies.

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  2. Troy

     /  September 19, 2014

    I believe our corporations and citizens of this country have a duty to enable our government to use what ever means it deems necessary to combat these terrorist organizations. Most of us have nothing to hide. Further more, millions of people don’t mind sharing all their life histories on Facebook . America, quit being so paranoid!

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  3. Duane,

    Well, first of all, I just switched from an iPhone to Samsung’s Galaxy 5s. So I suppose I’m still exposed to the digital prowling of our nation’s spy agencies. At least for now.

    But I’m still a strong defender of the 4th Amendment. I don’t know why the FBI guy would say a search warrant won’t allow cops access to a cell phone. If we lose the ability to have judicial oversight over a few rouge cops, which is what the 4th Amendment gives us, then we’re getting too close to a police state for me. Big Brother may be the new normal, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    Besides, I’m pretty sure our intelligence community can figure out how to bypass Apple’s little blockade. I mean if they can spy on us through our microwave ovens, tapping a cell phone should be a walk in the park.

    I’m also not convinced that terrorist attacks on the homeland are any greater, and probably much less so, than the street gangs in Chicago, Detroit, LA, and Philly, among many other cities. How many people have been killed by terrorists in this country after 9/11? And how many have been killed in gang wars? And not just gang members, innocent bystanders — children.

    So, maybe it comes down to a matter of priorities. Given the comparative risks of harm due to drug dealers, street gangs, hospital errors, obesity, idiots with concealed carry gun permits and our heavily militarized police, versus terrorism, maybe we’d be better off all those trillions of dollars on things that are the true, existential, every day threats than the one in a hundred million chance of a terrorist attack.

    Herb

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  4. I didn’t know they could spy on us through our microwave ovens! Sheese! Is nothing sacred? Now I’ll have to eat frozen dinners, really frozen dinners.

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  5. Good discussion on Apple’s locking up smartphones and the general topic of privacy. I found myself agreeing with many points in the post and comments but after mulling it over for a few hours, I’ve decided where I stand, at least for now. (Disclosure: I don’t have a smart phone or a Facebook account.)

    There may be, to use Duane’s words,”intensely personal” information on smart phones these days, but I can’t imagine any so intense that they should be off-limits to the judicial process. An example occurred to me: why did (does) Mitt Romney park a chunk of his millions off-shore in a Cayman Islands bank? I can only think of one reason, i.e., to put it off-limits to scrutiny for some judicial reason by the U.S. government. For me, it’s a matter of whether citizens should trust our form of government or not. Either its checks and balances make it trustworthy or it doesn’t, in which case we are into anarchy.

    The global economy has resulted in a fiscal anomaly. Nations are still sovereign but the financial system has become international. Case in point, the EU. That global reality ought not impede judicial due process, but it clearly does. I find it interesting that one of the ways president Obama is attempting to deal with the ISIL problem is to cut off their use of global finance. He understands how the world is changing.

    I would be in favor of a law prohibiting phone makers from locking up the data. And I’m still curious about Mitt’s overseas accounts.

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    • Well said, Jim. I would also favor a such a prohibition. You said it perfectly: “it’s a matter of whether citizens should trust our form of government or not.”

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