March 8, 2016, India
The story of the FBI asking Apple to create a backdoor into the iPhone has me spellbound. It’s like a game being played at a global level. A game whose result will have repercussions everywhere. Like when Microsoft won the battle to capture the PC market, and the world was stuck with a decade of beige boxes, buggy software, and millions of viruses. The difference is the whole world has gone online now, and there is a lot more at stake.
The FBI has played its cards well, and manoeuvred Apple into a corner where it comes across as a self-serving, unpatriotic entity. A company whose chief concern seems to be its iPhone’s brand value of being a ‘secure phone,’ even if this comes at a cost of national security.
What puzzles me about this game is why Apple is being so defensive. What if Apple had agreed to do what the FBI wants. But laid down the condition that the FBI takes on the responsibility to compensate every single loss that happens if someone manages to duplicate the masterkey and misuse it. If the FBI disagreed, Apple takes them to court to enforce this. At that point, it would no longer be ‘Apple vs the FBI’ but ‘the people vs the FBI.’
Apple has protested that the FBI’s demand ‘compromises the security of all iOS users.’ What Apple forgets is it lost the ear of the common man halfway through the second syllable of the word ‘compromise.’ Sure most readers of this post will understand exactly what Craig Federaghi was talking about. But they are not representative of the majority of Americans. That kind of abstract talk would go right over the head of the common man. They see the world as either evil or good. To them, Syed Rizwan Farook is evil, and if Apple won’t help reveal what was in his phone, then Apple too is evil.
What is required is a return to Job’s mantra of simplicity. Keep it simple, spell out the obvious, and dramatise it with powerful imagery.
For instance, if I were Apple, here’s how I would put it.
The FBI wants us make the equivalent of a masterkey that will unlock every phone. But if a masterkey can be made, anyone with the right skills can duplicate that key, and sell it for a price.
This means a seedy troll will soon be going through the photos on your phone, and threatening to post private pictures of your wife on FaceBook.
A thief will use your credit card to buy himself the latest iPhone.
An ISIS online recruiter will have long soul-to-soul chats with your teenage son about the glories of war and the 72 virgins waiting for him in heaven.
A dirty old pervert pretending to be a 12 year girl will soon be able to chat with your 12 year old daughter.
What’s that? You will give up your phone to keep the country safe.
Wonderful, the FBI has another great proposal to follow up on this one.
To access a suspect terrorist’s phone, the FBI also needs to have the key to his front door. So the FBI requests all lock manufacturers to join hands and create a masterkey that will open any lock in the US. In short, the FBI wants a masterkey to every home in the US.
No terrorist will ever again be safe. The FBI will sneak into their homes, and go through their phones, and check if they are hiding bombs in the cellar, and while they are at it, they will put a spy camera in the terrorist’s bedroom to record him skyping with the ISIS, and so on.
Of course, this also means that if the FBI suspects you of being a terrorist, they can do the same to your home.
But why stop with homes?
So the FBI would like automobile manufacturers to put their heads together and figure out how to create a masterkey that will unlock every car on earth.
The FBI would like the bankers association to create a master code that will unlock every bank account in the world.
The FBI would like online account hosts to make master passwords that can unlock any account.
The FBI would like the doctors’ association to work on a brain implant that allows FBI to see what people are thinking, and this implant will be compulsory for all citizens of US.
This is beginning to sound like a good plot for a John Grisham type Hollywood blockbuster. The title could be ‘Say hello to big brother.’
Recently in India, there was an issue of net neutrality. The net savvy Indians didn’t leave it to the powers that be to decide what was right. Instead people at all levels began protesting in different forums. The Indian government heard them, and struck down the proposal.
But the American people seem to be leaving the issue to Apple and other corporates to settle in the court. I think people need to make their voices heard and force the issue. Like more online petitions to the government asking them to reconsider the FBI demand. The common man must be made aware of the real implications of the FBI’s request to Apple. YouTubers should make videos explaining this in simple terms, lawmakers should draft laws, lobbyists should lobby, grafitti makers should spread the word…
Every thing in the world comes with constraints. You buy a car within your budget. A house you build has to follow local rules. Police investigating a crime have to do it within the law.
Likewise, the FBI can’t just sit down, put their feet up, and expect Apple to spoonfed them info with a Masterkey. If they want info, they need to go out and do it the way good detectives have been doing it for centuries. With brains, research, and good old hard work.
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