I was waiting for the next round of the court battle between Apple and the US government to post this piece I wrote a couple of months ago. Given that there is no next round to that fight, now seems as good a time as any.
There has been a lot said and written recently about the dispute between Apple and the US government over cracking the encryption on a dead terrorist’s cell phone.
I’m a little reluctant to add to the noise, but then figured I might as well. Nobody listens to me anyway.
Both government and Apple have a valid argument as to why the encryption should or should not be broken. After much deliberation and consideration I know where I stand – but I’m not going to tell you because it isn’t relevant to what I want to discuss here.
In all the fuss over privacy and security and constitutional rights I think an important point has been missed, or at least I haven’t seen it raised and the question asked.
It’s not that Apple says it can’t reverse engineer the phone to break the encryption and retrieve whatever data is on the device. It is that they won’t do it.
For Apple it would have been better to say it wasn’t possible. Because obviously it is. (Even more obvious now that the FBI has found someone who did it for them.)
Knowing what I know about techies and challenges, I suspect someone at Apple has already done it. Or when the system was created some engineer built it with a back door access that isn’t in the specs. That’s what technical designers do. Or maybe I am too influenced by the 1980s film War Games.
It seems to me therefore that the fuss is irrelevant. The problem has been solved. But no-one is allowed to know because that would hurt the Apple brand. Or am I just being paranoid?
I wrote that at the beginning of March. Now that the fuss is over, I think Apple comes out as the biggest loser here. They would probably have been better off corporately to quietly break the encryption with no publicity involved. The FBI would probably have cooperated and announced they’d found the terrorist’s passwords somewhere.
Now Apple has a public relations problem. We all now know their encryption isn’t perfect, that their phones can be hacked. That can’t be good for business.