The “FBI-versus-Apple” story of recent weeks has brought a vital issue to the front burner: whether we will have secure technology in the future or not–or at least the chance to have secure technology.
In reality, this isn’t only about Apple or the FBI. It’s about the considerable weight of government in its zeal to have access to everything we say and do in the digital realm–which is to say, increasingly, almost everything we say and do.
The Obama administration, and governments around the world, believe they have an innate right to whatever information they want, whenever they want it. This is a law-enforcement-first mentality, and in many ways an understandable one in a sometimes dangerous environment. But governments also want something they assuredly cannot have: a way to crack open our devices and communications, willy-nilly, when we’re using encryption tools that make it difficult if not impossible to do so without users turning over the keys to their digital locks.
They call this a “privacy versus security” debate. It is, in fact, a “security versus security” issue: If they get backdoors into our devices, software and networks, they will–according to just about every reputable non-government security and encryption expert–guarantee that we will all be less secure in the end, because malicious hackers and criminals (some of whom work for government) will ultimately get access, too. Governments want magic math, and they can’t have it. It’s also a free speech issue, a huge one, because the government is telling Apple it has to write new code and sign it with a digital signature.
Sorry, this is binary. We have to choose. One choice is to acknowledge that bad guys have a way to have some secure conversations using encryption, thereby forcing law enforcement and spies to come up with other ways to find out what the bad guys are doing. The other choice is to reduce everyone’s security, on the principle that we simply can’t afford to let bad people use these tools.
Sadly, the journalism about this has been reprehensibly bad, at least until recently, outside of the tech press. Traditional Big Media basically parrot government people, including most recently President Obama himself, even though they’re finally starting to wake up to what’s happening. John Oliver’s HBO program last Sunday was a sterling example of how media can treat this complex topic in a way that a) tells the truth; and b) explains things with great clarity.