Is the FBI Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here. The FBI has verbally attacked Apple because Apple’s products are relatively secure. The director has even stated that Apple is allowing users to “place themselves beyond the law.”

The FBI’s thinking reminds me of the very reason that the Bill of Rights was created: That people should first have freedoms–especially from the government–and that the government should be restricted in infringing upon its citizens…even if this means things are more difficult for law enforcement.

Under the Bill of Rights the government had to go through the bother of first proving probable cause and then had to go and get a search warrant and finally could begin a quest for their holy grail. Since people were free to hide what they were doing (such as by burying it in their back yards) the government has always been at a disadvantage. This is by design, because the freedom of the people is so important it overrides governmental convenience.

The modern government logic goes like this: They should be able to invade your privacy to monitor for legal infractions, and then they should be given keys to enter your house, and you should have to post a treasure map to what they are after. This is entirely backwards from the country’s founding beliefs.

There were bad people 230 years ago just as there is now. And those bad people were difficult to catch, and they hid things and even wrote in code. But all of this was secondary to the importance of protecting the people from an aggressive and targeting government.

For us in telecommunications this issue is a huge deal. If the obligation to keep keys for the government becomes the norm, we will all become the obligatory spying agencies. We will have to keep privacy keys and we will have to be at odds from our own customers. We will become the threat to our customers, and they will shut us out of their businesses and this will hurt our businesses because then we cannot be strategic partners.

I hold onto the belief that any backdoor for the government is a back door for hackers and pirates. Indeed, a number of the security invasions hackers have exploited have been government-installed back doors, so this threat is real.

Apple is to be applauded for demonstrating that safe and secure computers and phones can be accomplished. We don’t live in a world of constant hacker exploits because Apple denies themselves from having access to our personal systems. Apple builds security into their products not so much to defeat the government but to protect its customers.

If you think that you have nothing to hide and therefore privacy doesn’t matter to you then you really need to study history, especially of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. That’s what people thought then–even good upstanding people–until gradually anybody that didn’t support the government party became a target. If you think it can’t happen here in America, then consider J Edgar Hoover  He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders…and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting Presidents and all of this was done in the name of enhanced law enforcement.

Here in telecommunications we are at the forefront of this issue. How will you handle that knock on the door?