Apple, FBI, ISIS, and Secrets

This goes significantly off-topic from what I normally talk about, but still revolves around technology (and even touches on the potential impact on education). The news about the FBI demanding that Apple unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino gunmen is everywhere, and the FBI using the suffering of the victims' families to get what they want is not only immoral, it is irresponsible.

One of the most common arguments that comes up regarding encryption and secrets is that if you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. This could not be further from the truth. Many businesses around the world depend on trade secrets, or keeping secret the development and progress of new products and technology. Law enforcement agencies may be protecting the identities of undercover agents, witnesses, or victims. You know, agencies like, say, the FBI. Can you say you have nothing to hide while still demanding answers about the breaches in security at Target, Neiman Marcus, and Michaels? More in line with education, schools and districts must also be sure they are keeping student information secure and private. This is not just something that should be done, but something that must be done. We all have "something to hide", even if we're not doing anything wrong.

The FBI is claiming they hope to discover information on the phone; information that will help prevent other terror attacks. This is highly unlikely, and the FBI knows it. The San Bernardino gunmen were a man and a woman. Islamic extremists (ISIS, Taliban) do not use women as "soldiers". This act of terror appears to have been "ISIS-inpired", but that is very different from "ISIS-plotted". The FBI can get access to phone records, even without access to the phone. They likely already have a good idea who the gunmen were in contact with, and there is little else they could discover from the phone itself.

Asking Apple to try to create a method to circumvent security measures puts far more people at risk than any possible gain from unlocking this one phone.

There is a belief that the burden on, or cost to, Apple to circumvent the security of the phone is relatively small because they are such a large and wealthy company. Again, this could not be further from the truth. If Apple is successful in gaining access to the phone, it calls into question, at least from the perspective of the public, the actual security of Apple's products. Apple could potentially lose contracts for large-scale deployments to government agencies, businesses, and yes, even school districts. The public perception of ineffective security could also cost Apple consumer sales. There are so many costs that go beyond the simple costs related to the hours required for Apple's developers to gain access to the phone's contents.

There isn't anything the FBI can do to bring back the victims of the attack, and it is disturbing that they are using the grief of the victims' families to advance some hidden and unrelated agenda.

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