FBI Overreach in Pursuit of Apple Compliance

appleThe Apple-FBI saga playing out in a very public way is a classic case of overreach by a law enforcement agency. The FBI is putting extraordinary (and unprecedented) pressure on Apple following the horrific San Bernadino shootings. The U.S. government has filed a motion in court to compel Apple to re-engineer its operating system so that the FCC can investigate whether the shooter used his iPhone to communicate or plan with other potential co-conspirators.

Forcing Apple to crack open its own code might appeal to some people clamoring for a quick fix for the ever-increasing threat of terrorism in our country. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes and the government’s move is an extraordinary threat to civil liberty. It also won’t solve the larger problem. A backdoor won’t stop terrorism, but it will weaken smartphone security systems with no likelihood of any real public benefit. The public, and policymakers, should support Apple’s public resistance to the FBI’s pressure tactics. The FBI’s proposal is dangerous for at least these four reasons:

It Won’t Stop Terrorism

The FBI wants Apple to build a post-incident forensic investigation tool to unpack what may have happened. But that will not actually deter or prevent terrorism. Terrorists will simply switch to using encrypted phones from other countries.

It Will Open Security Loopholes

If the government is allowed to force Apple to provide a backdoor to its operating system, it will weaken security for all U.S. consumers on a go-forward basis This will not force committed terrorists to think twice, but instead could make Apple’s operating system vulnerable to the hacking of consumer data on a large scale given the way this story is playing out publicly as the hacking community will be awaiting the court decision with baited breath.

It Sets A Terrible International Precedent

If the courts force this technology mandate on Apple, it’s also making this technology available to the rest of the world. That means rogue regimes and dictatorships interested in cracking down on the communications and online interests of its citizens will have access to the same security busting technology as the U.S. government. Limiting security on iPhones could put regular citizens, journalists or freedom fighters, who are often on the frontlines of fights against oppression, in peril.

It Encourages Malware

What the FBI is requesting is as akin to introducing a dangerous virus into Apple’s operating system. The FBI is demanding that Apple create malware by reformulating its software. Backdoor access not only creates access for the government but it creates a flaw that black hat hackers will attempt to exploit. There’s a good chance this will create unintended consequences for Apple and its operating system, which could create a myriad of issues for millions of iPhone users.

Terrorism is a serious problem and one we, as a country, must face head-on. But we need to approach the situation in a way that yields results without creating new vulnerabilities. Knee-jerk reactions, like the one we’re seeing from the FBI are certainly not the answer. They only harm civil liberties and create new problems down the line. We need to hold true to our societal principles, including a right to privacy or we risk handing the terrorists their first real victory by causing us to subvert our values for a gamble that evidence collected after this attack might prevent future attacks.

Tim Sparapani is founder of the consulting firm SPQR Strategies and senior policy counsel for CALinnovates. He was the first director of public policy at Facebook and was senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. He is on Twitter: @TimSparapani.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily