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 Now, after Apple’s announcement, that ruling will soon be as out-of-date as, well, landline phones.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.