Thank You, Tim Cook

Thank You, Tim Cook

Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook defied a federal court order to implement a backdoor into the company’s software, which would allow government investigators to secretly listen in on encrypted data from users’ various communications platforms on the phone. This was in the name of national security, of course, in order to crack the iPhone of the San Bernardino shoooter Syed Farook for the purposes of information-gathering. Never mind that the government doesn’t do its job – defend the borders – so that suspected terrorists don’t enter this country in the first place – which in this case, at least one did. Did they look at the Facebook page of his wife/accomplice Tashfeen Malik – the red flags were there, and while we don’t sanction racial or religious profiling, we’re talking about vetting people who want to enter this country permanently, which has, historically, always been policy.By the way, Farook’s phone was government-issued and the password was reset by the  agency that employed him after it was in FBI custody. In fact, according to the AP, “The county government that owned the iPhone…paid for but never installed a feature that would have allowed the FBI to easily and immediately unlock the phone… The service costs $4 per month per phone.” Your – and California’s – tax dollars at work.

Equally troubling is the fact that Basically Every Single Presidential Candidate Is Totally Clueless As To What’s At Stake In The Apple / FBI Fight, according to Techdirt.

As you no doubt know, the Senate Intelligence Committee decided against criminal charges should Apple fail to comply with court order, but it’s far from over, and contrary to what was stated, no, the government did not want access to simply one device (namely, the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone): they wanted a tool that would potentially invalidate Apple’s encryption, and we know that ‘government security’ is an oxymoron: just consider how many times the IRS has been hacked.

According to Bloomberg news, Secret Memo Details U.S.’s Broader Strategy to Crack Phones. “In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision…The memo was approved by the NSC’s Deputies Committee, according to the people familiar with it. While the deputies’ committee changes depending on the subject matter, it typically includes at least a dozen sub-cabinet level officials, among them the deputy attorney general, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the deputy national security adviser.” So, it was never intended to be a one-off after all, in case you missed it. And for the record, the San Bernardino shooting occurred afterwards – on December 2nd.  Odd timing, to be sure, but we’ll leave it to the conspiracy theorists in the room to have their fun with that one.

“This week’s federal court order undermines years of effort by Apple to design a system that makes accessing encrypted data impossible without the participation of the phone’s legitimate user,” the Bloomberg piece continued. “Company officials appeared to believe the enhanced encryption would remove Apple from the efforts of any government to sabotage the security of their customers. Instead, federal agents have detailed in a public document several ways in which that encryption can be bypassed.”   Um, did we miss something?

Of course, it could be argued that Apple plays digital privacy hardball with FBI, ‘but not China’. Then again, the tech giant has cooperated with the US government in the past, but never to the extent where it built a backdoor – which the company did not do for the Chinese government, either.

Cybersecurity expert John McAfee offered to decrypt the San Bernardino phone for free but we don’t know if he had any takers, and what fun would that be, anyway? As McAfee puts it most succinctly: “No matter how you slice this pie, if the government succeeds in getting this back door, it will eventually get a back door into all encryption, and our world, as we know it, is over. In spite of the FBI’s claim that it would protect the back door, we all know that’s impossible.” Hey, we have a former highly placed member of government who might have believed that placing a server in the bathroom would keep the information on it safe. What hacker would think to look for a server in the bathroom, after all?

Given the current mindset in Silicon Valley, re, that skirting the law is no bigs (see Uber, Airbnb, Theranos, and of course, let’s not forget Zenefits, and that’s not a skirt – it’s a damn ballroom gown), thank you, Tim Cook, for hopefully leading by example and maintaining what seems to be lost in the current crop of newly minted unicorns, et al: a sense of responsibility to your user base, the vision to understand that it’s the future that’s at stake here, and above all, ethics, which, given the current climate, sadly, you seem to be the only one out there doing what Apple has always done best: think different. Onward and forward.

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