Toronto Star's View: Biting Apple bruises privacy...
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Feb 19, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Biting Apple bruises privacy rights

Apple is right to resist a California judge’s order that it help the FBI hack into the iPhone of a dead terror suspect. It’s a dangerous assault on privacy rights

OurWindsor.Ca

There are limits to how far the United States and other democracies should go in demanding that Apple and other high tech companies give police the ability to break into their customers’ smartphones, tablets and other devices by getting around encryption technology.

And those limits are being sorely tested in the epic tussle between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a California judge’s order that requires Apple to help the FBI hack into the iPhone of a dead terrorist.

It’s a dangerous precedent without benefit of authorization from the U.S. Congress that could see national security and law enforcement riding roughshod over privacy rights. And it may well spill over into Canada, encouraging police in this country to adopt similar tactics.

As recently as four months ago, President Barack Obama was of the firm — and principled — view that Apple and other companies should not be forced to provide the government with wholesale “back door” access to their source code and encryption keys that could leave millions of Americans vulnerable if the software fell into the wrong hands. But that abruptly changed in the wake of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead. The White House, feeling the political heat in an election year, has chosen to put the bite on Apple, bruising civil rights in the process.

To its credit, Apple is fighting back to protect its corporate interests and its customers’ rights. As Apple chief executive Timothy Cook says, “people have a basic right to privacy” that is under attack from “dangerous” government overreach.

After co-operating with the FBI to the extent that it can without compromising customer privacy, Apple is challenging a federal court order requiring it to create new software that would let the FBI break into the iPhone used by Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, and troll through its contents looking for messages, data and pictures that may shed light on the attackers’ motives and possible accomplices. The White House now says the FBI has its “full support” in the investigation. This legal wrangle may yet end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

If so, Americans can only hope that the court sides with the tangible privacy rights of millions of iPhone users over the FBI’s desire to go through a dead terrorist’s phone.

What the FBI is asking Apple to do is breach the duty of trust it has in the digital age to keep customer information safe from hackers, criminals and identity thieves.

Specifically, the court order requires Apple to create new software that would bypass a security feature on the older iPhone5C that causes it to erase its data if 10 incorrect passwords are entered. The FBI wants to generate an unlimited number of passwords until it finds the one that works, then fish through the contents.

“The government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create … a backdoor to the iPhone,” Cook says.

“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone,” he says. “But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.” And there’s “no way to guarantee” that the back door software would remain in the hands of Apple, the FBI or any other innocent actor. It could fall into the hands of hackers, cybercriminals, hostile foreign actors and terrorists, putting millions of customers at risk of identity theft, fraud or worse.

“We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications,” Cook says.

He’s right. A single FBI terror probe is fast becoming the pretext for a chilling, wholesale expansion of the surveillance state. That should worry us all.

Toronto Star

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