Last year, the United Nations called personal encryption a necessary condition for civic life in the digital age.
That was last year.
This year, Apple is fighting the U.S. Department of Justice over this very issue: personal encryption.
Quite a bit of good news this week, with one unfathomable bit to take us into the weekend. Let’s start with the head-scratching, laughter-enducing bit from the end of the week, shall we?
ArsTechnica reported this head-scratching story Thursday
— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) March 4, 2016
Jonathan Zdziarski, a prominent iPhone forensics expert, said in a telephone interview that the district attorney is suggesting that a “magical unicorn might exist on this phone” …
In a follow-up e-mail [to Ars], Zdziarski added: “This reads as an amicus designed to mislead the courts into acting irrationally in an attempt to manipulate a decision in the FBI’s favor. It offers no evidence whatsoever that the device has, or even might have, malware on it. It offers no evidence that their network was ever compromised. They are essentially saying that a magical unicorn might exist on this phone.” (emphasis added)
The response on Twitter, as might be expected, is entertaining:
Cyber pathogens are so unspeakably dangerous that the open research community has wisely never published a single paper about them.
— matt blaze (@mattblaze) March 4, 2016
We have dormant cyber pathogens in the Internet tubes! The prudent course of action is to weaken the security of our mobile devices.
— Chris Wysopal (@WeldPond) March 4, 2016
— Grant Dobbe (@grantdobbe) March 4, 2016
I might spend the rest of the day shouting CYBERPATHOGEN! at random people. It’d make about as much sense as anything else that’s happening.
— Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) March 4, 2016
BREAKING NEWS: The dead terrorist's phone has been handed over to the CDC to handle the dormant #cyberpathogen
— Per Thorsheim (@thorsheim) March 4, 2016
— bat (@mzbat) March 4, 2016
The week’s good news
In a New York case involving illicit drugs, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled that Apple does not have to unlock an iPhone on demand from the U.S. government. That was Monday, leap day.
That’s when we learned why the San Bernardino iPhone is locked: an FBI oopsie.
While the companies that signed this brief are often fierce competitors, our unity with Amazon.com, Box, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Nest Labs, Pinterest, Slack, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Yahoo, reflects our deep, shared concerns about the potential ramifications of this case for technology and for our customers. At stake are fundamental questions about privacy, safety, and the rule of law.
— ⚡️Kathy E Gill (@kegill) March 3, 2016
The briefs, which argue that Apple should not be compelled to create software to help the FBI break into an iPhone that had been in possession of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, are meant to bolster the Cupertino company’s legal case. Intel and AT&T—yes, the same AT&T that had a secret spying pact with the NSA—filed their briefs solo. The ACLU, Access Now, and the Wickr Foundation, and a group of security experts have lent their support as well, with more companies, experts, and institutions expected to join in by the end of the Thursday deadline set by the case’s judge Sheri Pym.
One of those letters of support is from the husband of a victim.
When I first learned Apple was opposing the order I was frustrated that it would be yet another roadblock. But as I read more about their case, I have come to understand their fight is for something much bigger than one phone. They are worried that this software the government wants them to use will be used against millions of other innocent people. I share their fear.
As we head into the weekend, I leave you with the concluding paragraph from Orenstein’s ruling:
“… as the tide of technological advance flows ever farther … that debate must happen today, and it must take place among legislators who are equipped to consider the technological and cultural realities of a world their predecessors could not begin to conceive. It would betray our constitutional heritage and our people’s claim to democratic governance for a judge to pretend that our Founders already had that debate, and ended it, in 1789 [when the All Writs act was signed into law].”
Pay attention; speak up.
As your teacher might have said, “this could be on the test.”
It’s so important that you should be asking every one of your elected representatives their thoughts on the case. That’s their test.