Privacy is the big underpinning issue of the last decade and coming century, but since it’s being defined in a largely non-visible space (software) its not drawing nearly the attention and sex appeal of other divisive issues of our time.
That’s why its so important that Tim Cook made a big and definitive statement on Apple’s stance on privacy, encryption, and the governments current stance.
A message to their Customers
Apple’s cache as a cultural driver in America and globally cannot be understated and their address to their customers carries huge weight. Very few customers buy phones based primarily on their security features, but the overwhelming majority assume precautions are in place to protect their data.
Trust looms large here and underpins a lot of Apple’s success: People trust Apple to make the right call on features/safety/performance and quickly move on to the salient issues they care about: Apps, texts, and finding a good wifi hotspot.
A message to the Industry
A public statement from Apple has the added benefit of forcing a response from other major players in the US tech industry. Already Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has weighed in on the statement and a flood of others have begun to chime in on his heels.
End to End Encryption
Rock solid end to end encryption and security measures that the implementors do not know how to crack is a hallmark of modern security in software: ensuring everything from messaging apps to banking transactions. A huge part of the security provided by these kinds of measures is there is little to nothing the “encryptor” can be compelled to provide about the content of the encrypted content.
Attempts to undermine this paradigm in encryption effectively blows away end to end encryptions greatest asset and is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set under any circumstance.
Even the former NSA director agrees:
“America is simply more secure with unbreakable end-to-end encryption”
– Former NSA director Michael Hayden
The Law Lags
One of the largest concerns of this whole episode is the contortion of old law to address incredibly new legal challenges of the digital age.
The law the FBI is citing to compel Apple to act on their behalf is The All Writs Act which is a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789. We’re attempting to navigate a technological world where we build the train tracks a half second before the train passes over it with legislation written when the concept of a computer was high fiction.
One of the primary reasons the FBI can invoke the law in the first place is a provision that makes it a catch-all:
The All Writs Act is only applicable if no statute, law or rule on the books to deal with the specific issue at hand.
Read more on The All Writs Act
Setting the tone
At the end of this all the most important thing is that Apple’s lack of silence on the issue allows us to conduct this conversation on the national stage. This is something that might have been hard/impossible in a pre Edward Snowden era.
Sunlight is often the best disinfectant so lets hope this discussion stays in the Sun.