Apple Is Selling You A phone, Not Civil Liberties

Let’s start with an important fact that Apple elides in its statement: Apple engineered this problem and it did so intentionally. In the wake of the Snowden leaks, Apple specifically decided to encrypt material end-to-end and at rest by default on the devices it manufactures and to not maintain any ability to decrypt material unless users specifically gave it the power to recover that material. It boasted about this decision and used it as a marketing weapon against its competitors. Reasonable people can argue about whether or not Apple did so for good reasons and whether or not doing so was the optimal way for the company to enhance the cybersecurity of its users. But the simple fact remains that Apple used to have the capacity to comply with warrants, and now it cannot without a certain amount of reengineering. And that was a matter of its own choosing made despite repeated warnings from the government that this choice would cause substantial problems for law enforcement, national security investigators, and public safety.

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FBI and Justice Department officials, we think, can be forgiven if they’re a touch cynical about all of Apple’s elaborate legal argumentation and suspect that this all just masks what appears to be Apple’s genuine litigating posture towards the government: You can’t make us do anything, because we are immensely politically powerful, our CEO is on the phone with the President regularly, we are too big and way too cool to fail, and people around the world like us more than they like you. So what about that dead woman in Louisiana? Sorry, but bringing her killer to justice—and preventing his or her future violence—just isn’t as important as the data security of our devices. And about protecting people from ISIS? We’ll help out if it’s not too much trouble, but don’t ask us—ever—to do something that will make us look bad to the ACLU, even if there’s a very good legal argument that you can.

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