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  • Apple has lifted the lid on an almighty rub which is the Silicon Valley tech groups and the U.S. government.

  • The world's most valuable company said this week that it will fight against a court order,

  • telling it to unblock the iPhone of one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre.

  • Joining me to discuss this is James Blitz, one of the FT's leader writers.

  • James, let's set this up exactly what's going on here,

  • what is the big case and why is the government so agitated towards Apple around it.

  • Very roughly ever since Edward Snowden made his revelations about mass surveillance by U.S. and U.K intelligence services

  • there's been a huge amount of tension between U.S. tech companies and Western intelligence agencies.

  • The tech companies say, we need to do everything possible to protect the information of our customers.

  • The intelligence services are saying, we're facing a massive terrorist threat from ISIS,

  • we need to have some penetration of those services even when they are encrypted.

  • What's happened here is that Apple has basically said defiantly that it is not going to help the FBI

  • on what is a very big test case regarding the San Bernardino killings.

  • Now this is the thin end of the wedge though,

  • I mean, this is the government's case is that this is very specific about one particular phone of one of the attackers.

  • The tech industry thus says, probably legitimately, that actually this has much broader implications for how privacy's protected you mentioned Edward Snowden.

  • Consumers themselves are saying we want to have much more privacy in our devices

  • and at the same time the implications... much further than just this one company and this one device.

  • Well I think ever since the Snowden revelations happened,

  • the U.S. tech companies, all tech companies, are entitled to look very carefully at any request from intelligence services for this kind of information.

  • That's absolutely right, they've got to be careful.

  • But in this particular case, the question is, is this justified?

  • What you're talking about here is a killing by U.S. citizens on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

  • This is not some fishing expedition by the FBI, they're actually looking at a specific case.

  • And what they want to do is, get hold of the data, which was on the phone on one of the perpetrators in that killing

  • that looks pretty cupboard bottom to me.

  • Now the question then is: If they accede to this request, is something substantially done to make the iPhone vulnerable,

  • that's where the debate is.

  • And of course that is the case, isn't it?

  • Because right now the argument that Apple put forward is that no one can crack into an iPhone

  • and that's one of its, both key selling points, but one of the things that appeals to consumers and citizens around privacy.

  • If they create this software to do what the FBI is asking it to do,

  • it makes it inherently a much more breakable a device than it ever has been.

  • It is the argument that Apple makes, but it's an argument that I would reject, basically.

  • I think yes, what the FBI is asking for is the creation of something that could potentially be a master key.

  • But it's not as though Apple is going to be handing something over, as far as I can see, to the FBI

  • that they can then use willy-nilly, whenever they want, in any situation they want.

  • They are getting this, they would be getting this under a specific judicial order.

  • Say they wanted to look at another phone in another situation, they would again have to get another judicial order,

  • so I'm not convinced that there are some kind of blanket permission that's being given on surveillance here by the FBI is asking for from Apple.

  • But of course it's not just the FBI, isn't it

  • There are repressive regimes to exterior ones like China, the Middle East, Russia,

  • where the scruples are less gone through and the systems are less robust, maybe than in the U.S.

  • And the implication, or the argument of the tech companies is that,

  • look, if we do it here, that's going to give all of us and the government the same right to access request,

  • and that's going to pose big challenges for companies like Apple or Google in China.

  • Again, that's something that has to be considered,

  • and one understands what Apple's commercial concerns are,

  • because in the end this is about a commercial concern.

  • People want to be sure if they've got the iPhone, they're working in China, that this isn't going to happen.

  • But this is a very specific case where the request that's being made in this case is quite justified

  • and one could, for example, imagine a case, say in China,

  • which the Chinese authorities wanted assistance with a specific act of murder that had taken place

  • and one could imagine that, of course,

  • if there's a case in which the Chinese are asking Apple for some kind of master key in order to look at dissidence

  • or whatever then clearly Apple should resist.

  • I didn't see though, that those issues have necessarily changed as a result of this particular case.

  • But just to be clear, it's not just a consumer and a capitalist issue,

  • it's not just about selling more products,

  • also a moral and ethical argument, isn't it?

  • Because frankly, unless if the tech companies accede to this in the U.S.,

  • then that opens up a can of worms that is impossible to kind of put back in.

  • What it boils down to in the end, is whether you believe as I believe,

  • that there is no such thing as a right to absolute privacy.

  • In the end, there must always be circumstances in which security services in a state are in very specific circumstances

  • able to access information in order to protect the wider public and protect national security.

  • I do think that that is a principle that can be justified.

  • In my view, Apple and other tech companies need to accept that principle.

  • That doesn't mean that they've got to give ground on everything,

  • they of course they've got to scrutinize everything on a case-by-case basis.

  • But I think our argument has always been that they should do everything possible to help the authorities

  • in cases where there really is a strong argument for some kind of assistance being given.

  • Thanks James very much for sharing with us.

Apple has lifted the lid on an almighty rub which is the Silicon Valley tech groups and the U.S. government.

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The case of Apple v FBI | FT Comment

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    Kristi Yang posted on 2016/02/26
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