In perhaps one of its most obviously-boneheaded blunders of all-time, the government of the United States has recently ordered Apple to place a “back door” into its iOS software for the sake of hacking into one phone. An encrypted phone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters is the target, and the FBI is demanding Apple to recode its software so that they can recover the information stored. This was no request. Using a law written in 1789 called the All Writs Act, the U.S. government has quite literally commanded Apple to do as it says. Apple’s response? Not a chance.
Back Doors, A Slippery Slope
The software that the Department of Justice would have Apple build would not be a one-time piece of coding. Instead of asking for the phone itself to be decrypted, the government is asking Apple to write new software that will access any phone and quite literally provide a “back door” to all private contents. Decrypting one terrorist’s phone for justice sounds good on paper. But doing so by building an access route into all of Apple’s iOS software, endangering every phone, everywhere? Perhaps not. The government is claiming that they would only use this technology once. But in the hands of someone else? In the hands of the “terrorists” that the government is trying to catch? Pandora’s Box is locked for a reason.
Apple, Champion of Privacy
“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.” -Apple
Tim Cook suggests that the software that the U.S. government is demanding is akin to a “master key” which does not currently exist. If that master key were brought into existence, what is an already- shaky national defense against cyber-attacks will tumble like a wrong move on Jenga.
McAfee, Laughing at the FBI
In a recent turn of events, antivirus software founder John McAfee has offered to decrypt the information from the phone without having to design completely new “back door” software. Lauding his team’s prowess and skill, McAfee laughs at the FBI’s inability to take care of its problems itself, and makes a very potent proposal regarding the solution.
“So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.” -John McAfee
Clearly in league with Apple’s ideas, McAfee promises to do the dirty work of decryption without unleashing Pandora’s Box, which he agrees is the “beginning of the end of America.”
U.S. Government, All-Powerful
It’s unclear why the U.S. government has decided to pursue the route that it has in ordering Apple about like a naughty child. Apple is an enormous boon to American society, technology, and economy, and to spite its founder in such a way seems rather foolhardy- especially given McAfee’s conviction that the FBI shouldn’t need the software that they’re demanding. Americans ought to sit up and take notice of this particular fiasco, as it outlines some very interesting politics behind the moves of the current U.S. government. George Orwell’s 1984 may have been a relatively paranoid escapade into a painfully dystopian universe, but Big Brother as an idea may be thriving today in places we don’t necessarily like to look.