Apple is right, the FBI demand makes us all less secure

Once there's a backdoor key, everyone will want one

There’s a war going on. You’re part of it and, like it or not, you’re going to have to take sides.

Freedom by design

What am I talking about? I’m talking about global government in its creeping attack on encryption, because the governments are calling this wrong. They are using arguments of national security to advance an agenda that ultimately leaves us all less secure.

They say they want Apple to create a way to break into a criminal’s iPhone. Now, I’m going to gloss over the horror of the crime, though as we already know the criminals are guilty, what’s to be gained?

Not much.

Except for one thing. If Apple is forced to comply with this demand, then every other tech firm will be bought into line. Apple is only a poster child in this exchange.

What happens next?

Do you really think the U.S. government is going to be the only government to demand access to the back door key, once such a back door exists? Wake up! Once Apple provides access to one government, it will be forced to provide similar access to every government of every country on the planet in which it does business.

That’s only the beginning.

Think about the multiple faces of U.S. law enforcement. CIA, DEA, DOJ, NYPD, IRS and all those other acronyms, each of which will demand access to this back door key.

Don’t you think every security service on the planet will want the same thing, from Russia to China, Saudi Arabia to Nigeria and everywhere else? They will all want access. If Apple can’t stop the FBI from accessing it, how will it stop governments elsewhere?

This means that in a relatively short space of time there will be a lot of people equipped with the keys to the encrypted kingdom.

Lots of people would be equipped to misuse these keys in the event of economic or political conflict. What happens during war? What happens when agencies go rogue, states collapse and these keys fall into the wrong hands? How long will it be before criminal hackers manage to create their own keys once keys are known to exist?

It won’t be long

The implications are far more extensive than people purchasing products using your Apple Pay account (though that will happen, too).

Because as well as enabling smartphones, encryption plays a part in other industries, from oil and gas to nuclear power; from financial markets to agricultural exchange; from shipping to farming to smart traffic, cities and energy supply.

Once you break one encryption, you break them all. We already know that one of the big risks of an increasingly connected infrastructure is that of foreign or criminal agents breaking key infrastructure – causing all kinds of calamity, from unexplained transportation incidents to power station fires. Can anyone else spell STUXNET?

The implications of global governments' mission to destroy encryption may indeed make us safer in the short term, enabling state security services to correctly identify who is funding terrorism. Who knows, they may even do something with that information, assuming they don't know it already.

Short term gain, long term damage

But this will only be a short-term gain.

In the long-term, this attack on encryption will make us all more insecure and could have incredibly drastic impacts on the way we live, on our basic freedoms.

Imagine if Saudi Arabia used these keys to determine a person’s religious or sexual behavior? Does the FBI really want to enable repressive cultures to engage in an attack on people of differing sexuality?

These decisions will impact infrastructure, the financial markets and beyond. This is because in all of these the smartphone is the key to the castle -- and this back door will be the same as an access-all-areas pass.

This is why Microsoft, Google and others are beginning to rally beside Apple in this case.

What is being asked for here will do little to make us safer, and everything to make us more insecure. I urge a different course.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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