Posted by: David Harley | February 18, 2016

San Bernardino Backdoor – ethics and politics

More about Apple, the FBI, and the San Bernardino backdoor. John Gruber notes a couple of more-or-less political aspects to the story via his Daring Fireball site.

While he believes that ‘Apple is doing the morally correct thing here, by fighting the court order’ he agrees with Ben Thompson that it might have been politically expedient to give way to some extent, and ‘save the rhetorical gun powder for the inevitable request to insert the sort of narrow backdoor into the disk encryption itself’. Gruber observes:

The FBI chose this case carefully, because the San Bernardino attack is incendiary.

And in a subsequent article citing BuzzFeed commentary by Hamza Shaban regarding senatorial dismissal of Apple’s stance as pro-terrorist, he suggests that the FBI’s goal is to push for a new law:

…to create a political controversy driven by fear of terrorism committed by Muslims, and get egregious new anti-encryption legislation passed. I think the FBI knew Apple would fight this, and that the laws currently on the books are on Apple’s side.

While much of the discussion up to now has indicated that the measure the FBI wishes to enforce would not apply to more recent iPhone models with Security Enclave, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Two tweets from Farhad Manjoo state that:

By the way according to Apple it is not true that an iOS rewrite of the sort the FBI is asking for here wouldn’t work on newer iPhones.


Yes Secure Enclave would make it more difficult and would require a different workaround but Apple could technically get around it.

If this is indeed the case, it puts a different complexion on the matter: the ‘slippery slope’ argument becomes stronger, since this case can no longer be seen as a one-off.

David Harley


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