Feb 19 2016

Do We Want An FBiOS?

Super Cooper (our new dog – now one year old) woke me up at 4:45 this morning so I got up, let him out, got a cup of coffee, sat down in front of my computer, and spent the next hour going down the rabbit hole of the FBI / Apple phone unlock backdoor encryption security controversy.

After an hour of reading, I feel even more certain that Apple is totally in the right and the FBI’s request should be denied.

The easiest to understand argument is Bruce Schneier‘s in the Washington Post titled Why you should side with Apple, not the FBI, in the San Bernardino iPhone caseHis punch line is extremely clear.

“Either everyone gets security or no one does. Either everyone gets access or no one does. The current case is about a single iPhone 5c, but the precedent it sets will apply to all smartphones, computers, cars and everything the Internet of Things promises. The danger is that the court’s demands will pave the way to the FBI forcing Apple and others to reduce the security levels of their smart phones and computers, as well as the security of cars, medical devices, homes, and everything else that will soon be computerized. The FBI may be targeting the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter, but its actions imperil us all.”

Given that the law being used to try to compel Apple to do this is based on the All Writs Act of 1789, precedent matters a lot here. And, if you thought the legal decisions from 1789 anticipated the digital age, please fasten your seat belts – or maybe even encase yourself in an impermeable bubble – for the next 50 years as it’s going to get really complicated.

Once I got past the advocacy articles like Why Apple Is Right to Challenge an Order to Help the F.B.I. in the NY Times, I read a few of the “what is really going on here” articles like Wired’s Apple’s FBI Battle Is Complicated. Here’s What’s Really Going On. The context was starting to repeat, so I got it at a high level but wanted to understand the technical underpinnings of what was happening.

Since it’s the Internet, it was pretty easy to find that. The Motherboard article Why the FBI’s Order to Apple Is So Technically Clever was a good start. Dan Guido’s Trail of Bits post Apple can comply with the FBI court order was super interesting since he only focused on the technical aspects rather – focusing on feasibility rather than getting tangled up in whether it’s a good idea or not. Ars Technica has an article that ads a little in Encryption isn’t at stake, the FBI knows Apple already has the desired key.

I think wandered around a few random articles. Troy Hunt’s Everything you need to know about the Apple versus FBI case has some great historical context and then unloads with current activity including Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s Twitter support of Apple / Tim Cook. I ended with Why Tim Cook is wrong: A privacy advocate’s view.

Interestingly (and not surprisingly), the titles don’t reflect the actual critical thinking you can derive from reading the article, so just scanning headlines creates huge bias, whether you realize it or not. When I started reading the various articles, I immediately forgot most of the headlines and was surprised by some of them when I put this post together since the headline didn’t correspond with the message of the post.

I expect there will be lots of additional commentary on this as it continues to unfold in court and in public view. What I read, and thought about this morning, reinforced my view that I’m very glad Tim Cook and Apple are taking a public – and loud – stand against this. We are going to have to deal with stuff like this with increasing frequency over the next 50 years and what happens in the next decade is going to matter a lot.