Opening Pandora’s iPhone

on February 21, 2016
Reading Time: 5 minutes

According to Greek legend, Pandora, the first woman on Earth, was given a box that she was instructed never to open. Curiosity overcame her, however, and when she lifted the lid, all the evils of the world flew out. ((Men are always blaming women for all of their troubles. I think history has shown that men don’t need any assistance in creating trouble. We’re really, really good at creating trouble all on our own.)) ~ Endangered Phrases, Steven D. Price

On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, a judge at the United States District Court of California issued an order compelling Apple to assist the FBI in decrypting a phone used by one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino shootings. Apple has balked at the request.

The key is finding that backdoor that can be used appropriately by law enforcement with the appropriate judicial oversight. Search warrants and appropriate court involvement,” Stickrath said. ~ Steubenville rape trial also hindered by iPhone encryption, NBC4i.com

No. That is not the key. That is not the key at all.

There are no fourth amendment issues here. No one is objecting to the police searching the phone with proper judicial oversight.

Hypothetical

The San Bernardino shootings were bad enough, but let’s take this to its logical extreme. Suppose the FBI thought there was information in a suspect’s home that might help them PREVENT an imminent terrorist attack involving a tactical nuclear weapon.

Yikes! That’s about as bad as it gets, but plausible, no?

I’m absolutely convinced that the threat we face now, the idea of a terrorist in the middle of one of our cities with a nuclear weapon, is very real and that we have to use extraordinary measures to deal with it. ~ Dick Cheney ((The Military Quotation Book by James Charlton))

The FBI, having gone through all the proper procedures, goes to the suspect’s home to search for evidence. Only, there is a problem. The home is impenetrable, has only one door, and that door can only be opened with the homeowner’s password. And the homeowner is dead

The FBI goes to the company that built the home and installed the door and asks them for their assistance in opening the door. Perfectly reasonable request. The homebuilder would have to be some kind of monster ((Or Apple?)) to turn down such a request.

One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. ~ Milton Friedman

Here’s the thing. First, this homebuilder has installed the same type of lock on every one of the 1 billion (and counting) homes they have constructed. Just to put that in perspective, there are around 7 billion people on the planet.

Second, if the homebuilder creates a passkey for this home, the key would work on the doors of all the other 1 billion homes too.

And of course, we’re not really talking about 1 billion homes. If the FBI asks this homebuilder for a master key, they’re going to, soon enough, ask all the other homebuilders for their master keys too, right? Effectively, a master key to almost every home, almost everywhere, will be in the hands of the FBI.

Trust

No problem, right? The key will be safe and secure in the possession of the FBI, right?

Right?

The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted. ~ James Madison

Well, it’s possible that, every now and again, the FBI bends the rules just a bit. But they only do so to get the bad guys, right? And we’re one of the good guys, right? We have no reason to fear the FBI having a passkey to our homes. We’ll never give them legal cause to use it, right?

Giving an encryption key and the power to use it to the government is like giving car keys and whisky to teenage boys. ~ paraphrasing P.J. O’Rourke ((Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. ~ P.J. O’Rourke))

Even if we assume the FBI is 100% trustworthy 100% of the time ((That’s a mighty big “if”. I can trust my dog to guard my life, but I can’t trust him to guard my food. Similarly, I can trust law enforcement to guard my life, but I can’t trust them to guard my privacy.)) , we’ve still got at least three big problems.

Problems

1) Once the key is in the FBI’s possession, the FBI computers can be hacked and the key stolen.

2) Once the key is made, the integrity of the encryption will have been compromised and other clever people will be able to copy or create a duplicate of the key too.

3) If the FBI can order a key made, so can every other governmental body. From New York to New Zealand, from Chinatown to China, from South Africa to North Korea — everywhere the builder builds, they will have to provide the governing authority with a master key.

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Source: Privacy Camp

History

If you want to see the future, look to the past.

— If you don’t believe the police will unlawfully use the key, then I encourage you to study the history of the fourth amendment
— If you don’t believe the key can be duplicated, then I encourage you to study the history of encryption
— If you don’t believe that government computers can be hacked, then I encourage you to study the history of computing
— If you don’t believe the key will be abused, then I encourage you to study the history of humankind

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. ~ Harry S. Truman

Dilemma

So, do we allow a horrendous crime to occur we could have prevented? Or do we catch the scumbag and prevent the crime at the cost of subjecting our homes (actually, our smartphones) to a search by anyone powerful enough to demand, or clever enough to copy, the master key?

The answer can’t be “both”. It’s either/or. One or the other. You can’t have your encryption and eat it too. ((You can’t have your cake and eat it (too) is a popular English idiomatic proverb or figure of speech. The proverb literally means “you cannot both retain your cake and eat it”. Once the cake is eaten, it is gone. It can be used to say that one cannot or should not try to have two incompatible things. The proverb’s meaning is similar to the phrases “you can’t have it both ways” and “you can’t have the best of both worlds.” ~ Wikipedia))

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety ~ Benjamin Franklin ((From the Quote Verifier, by Ralph Keys: “So many quotations are misattributed to Benjamin Franklin that it’s refreshing to consider something Franklin actually said but for which he rarely gets credit. His actual words, in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1755, were “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Twenty years later, in 1775, Franklin wrote in a political critique, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This thought of Franklin’s is sometimes credited to Jefferson.”))

I know where I stand. Where do you stand?

The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Author’s Plea: I know it’s asking a lot, but let’s try to keep the political rhetoric out of the comments. The issue is divisive enough without it.

“It is the certainty that they possess the truth that makes men cruel.” ~ Anatole France

Let’s just take it as a given our political opposites are all mindless idiots and move on from there.

“Truth springs from argument amongst friends.” ~ David Hume