Apple’s Grapple

UNMAC_NELSON_WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIECreation of Homeland Security not enough?

Office of Total Information Awareness left for the day?

Is the heart-shaped flower of police militarization wilting?

Did D.A.R.P.A. go dark?

Has the Patriot Act pooped out?

Nope. Nor have the corporations and power brokers of the surveillance state yet tapped out American taxpayers. 

In other words, the FBI does not need the Genius Bar. 

From Feds to street-corner cops and home security companies, law enforcement has more than enough control, technology, and boots-on-the-ground for continued counterterrorism success. And probably lots of fun civil liberties secrets, too.

The FBI has all the tools it needs and plenty more to keep American citizens safe. And when I say “safe,” I mean relatively safe, just as we’ve been since September, 2001. Stuff will happen; that’s just the trajectory of history, especially when we’ve been messing around with it as much as we have. But in trying to force Apple to write new software that will help them unlock an iPhone belonging to the perpetrator of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, the Bureau is overstepping its constitutional bounds. Apple worries that, if they comply, anyone who can grab or mimic their software will have access to every confidence Americans hope to keep electronically secure.

FBI Director James Comey_Manuel Balce Ceneta:APPsh. If only we’d stop thinking about “extras” like privacy. FBI Director James Comey, according to the text of a letter posted to the Lawfare blog on February 21, would prefer to keep this whole thing simple enough to wish away into the cornfield. After all, it’s not “about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” and the relief sought by the Bureau would be “limited…its value increasingly obsolete.” Law enforcement just wants to do what we expect of them: they “simply want the chance” to take a stab at a terrorists’ passcode. Nobody is looking “to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land.”

Norebbo_Apple_LogosYet four days later, Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the Apple issue was “the hardest question [he’s] seen in government.” And this guy signed off on the use of waterboarding. He also helped block a shady Bush Administration attempt to reauthorize illegal NSA surveillance via a hospitalized John Ashcroft. So Comey is no stranger to matters of government reach. And he just oozes reasonableness as he insists the FBI shouldn’t get into the policy-making business.

03/01/16 update: That was contradicted again today when Comey told a congressional panel that the Apple case would be “potentially precedential.” In other words, future (tech?) companies from which the FBI wants similar cooperation from would be more likely to immediately fall in line. How handy.

And even as he talks all folksey-like about how we should join hands in sober conversation to weigh the pros and cons of this unimportant/critically important issue, Comey is recklessly tossing the baby out with the bathwater. If you listen carefully to what he says, it’s almost as if ruling in Apple’s favor would somehow roll us back to pre-2001 and eliminate all the FBI’s since-gained access to privacy-limiting counterterrorism measures. It really sounds like he’s asking: “Do you like the safety of the world we live in? ‘Cause that’s all out the window if you stop us from taking this further.” Or: “We all like privacy, but anyone against the FBI in doing this clearly hates safety.”

TIM COOK_UNMAC_WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIEWhat happened to reasoned and sober?

According to the Pew Research Center, 51% of Americans side with the Justice Department and the FBI over Apple CEO Tim Cook’s decision to defy the court-ordered unlock. But then another Pew survey shows that less than 60% of us can correctly answer questions about modern American politics, so…

We live in a country where half of us are suspicious or dismissive of the other half. And we can’t explain why. Instead, we either mimic others or cherry pick our news to suit our groupthink. We’re simply entitled to stuff. So it’s a bit difficult for me to jump in with the 51% consensus, and a lot easier to see an excuse in the FBI’s claim of technological hardship:

Calling it like I see it, I say this is a law enforcement land grab.