The FBI wants Apple to backdoor the phone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple doesn’t want to. The tech industry is (slowly, reluctantly) lining up behind Apple. Various elected officials are, predictably, lining up behind the FBI because A TERRISS. And the whole thing is being driven by the All Writs Act of 1789, about the bluntest possible instrument for such a thing, because there doesn’t appear to be any governing black-letter law (not that there wouldn’t be given the opportunity, because A TERRISS).
For starters, read Ben Thompson’s take, which covered everything of consequence about this. What Apple is being asked to do is rewrite the operating system to remove security features – they are literally bring asked to remove the erasure failsafe and more easily facilitate brute-force attacks. And the judge – who gives every appearance of being another technological illiterate – thinks that you can somehow rewrite a phone’s OS in such a way that it only works on that phone, which is risible at best and disqualifyingly stupid at worst.
Here’s the problem: Ed Earl Brown doesn’t get this at all. Ed Earl wants Apple to do like Donald Trump said and cut the phone open so we can get THA TERRISS. Ironically, if the FBI had said anything about unified national serial-number tracking for semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the shooting, Ed Earl would be pissing peach seeds and screaming about his freedoms, but then, we don’t look in on Ed Earl because he’s bright, we look in on him because he’s typical.
Apple has been building its brand over the past year on security. In a world where the Google model reigns, and everything is free at the point of use in exchange for being data-mined and advertised against, Apple is committed to an obscure and archaic business model in which goods and services are exchanged for cash on the fucking barrelhead. What the FBI is asking Apple to do amounts to an uncompensated taking: weaken your system and expose it to vulnerability, thus undermining your unique selling point, compromising your goodwill in the marketplace and forcibly gainsaying your previous commitments around security, in exchange for…well, as far as I can tell, in exchange for fuck-all.
And it’s the purest essence of slippery slope. Once Apple can be made to cut the phone for the FBI, they’re exposed in any country in which they do business, most especially China. Once the technology exists, they will be asked to exploit it – repeatedly. That’s why the FBI is doing this now, off the back of San Bernardino – getting any more information is a bonus; the real point is leveraging A TERRISS to get them the precedent of a back door into iOS, or anyone else’s mobile operating system, whenever they require it – and thereby to possibly prevent Apple from locking the back door in future.
I think the best hope for Apple is that this goes to the Ninth Circuit, where a judge with no fucks to give tells the FBI to go shit in a hat, and a divided Supreme Court defaults to letting it stand. In most other respects, I don’t see a win here for Apple, because we have established over and over and over again that Ed Earl Brown doesn’t give a flying fuck about privacy or surveillance or anything like it because THE TERRISS, just as long as they don’t touch his cheap-shit Chinese AK clone.
Fortunately, when you’re the biggest country in the world, the money and the resources are there to fight this thing as far as it can go, and I have no doubt Apple will do so. Donald Trump can say anything he likes, but Apple could buy and sell Donald Trump with a fraction of its cash reserves and have enough left over to buy all 32 NFL teams, so this fight will go as far as Tim Cook feels like taking it. And if there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s the caliber of bloody-mindedness an Auburn fan who grew up gay in Alabama is capable of.
War Damn AAPL, Tim.