Apple Has Starring Role in New Crypto War

Watching Eye Behind an iPhone ScreenIt seems safe to say a new round of the Crypto Wars is in full gear. In fact, let's officially call it Crypto Wars 2.0, because proxy parties are keeping the fight simmering in the background between full on salvos from the main parties involved.

On Thursday, a blog that privacy activists consider a shill for government intelligence interests argued that Apple could be violating the civil terrorism remedies provision of the Antiterrorism Act.

"A court might—believe it or not—consider Apple as having violated the criminal prohibition against material support for terrorism," Nejamin Wittes and Zoe Bedell wrote for LawFareBlog.

The piece, titled "Civil Liability for End-to-End Encryption: Threat or Fantasy? Part II," makes the case that Apple, by providing its users with end-to-end encryption that not even it can break, is supporting terrorism.

"The question ultimately turns on whether Apple’s conduct in providing encryption services could, under any circumstances, be construed as material support," they wrote. "The answer may be unnerving to executives at Apple."

At the heart of their argument is a series of their own fantasies: that backdoors work, that the bad guys won't find their encryption elsewhere if forced to, that the U.S. and only the U.S. can have the keys to these backdoors, and that America's technology lead won't evaporate in a puff of whatever these folks are smoking if our tech companies provided backdoor access.

Edward Snowden

Which is where Edward Snowden enters this background pot simmering on the stove. On Friday, Mr. Snowden responded to the LawFareBlog post making those arguments, naming the government's call for access to encrypted communications an "insecurity mandate."

In an email sent to FirstLook, Mr. Snowden said, "The central problem with insecurity mandates has never been addressed by its proponents: if one government can demand access to private communications, all governments can."

"No matter how good the reason," he added, "if the U.S. sets the precedent that Apple has to compromise the security of a customer in response to a piece of government paper, what can they do when the government is China and the customer is the Dalai Lama?"

These are common sense arguments to the law enforcement and the U.S. government's delusions that they can beat modern encryption with legislation. They can't and they won't.

Version 2.0

What makes this situation particularly galling is that we've fought these wars before. In the 1990s, the starring players were companies like Intel and cellphone makers, and the battles were over things like processor speed and having the Clipper Chip in our phones. The world would end, we were told, if tech companies exported powerful computers outside the U.S. and if the NSA couldn't eavesdrop through the Clipper Chip.

Those moves were defeated and somehow the world has continued operations since, but now we're getting the same arguments with different a target, Apple. Google has also been targeted at various stages of this fight because the newest versions of Android contain similar levels of encryption.

Encryption is here. That genie will not be stuffed back into its bottle no matter how much the FBI, the NSA, and the White House whine about it. Encryption protects us from the bad guys just as much as it protects the bad guys from our good guys. It sucks, but that doesn't make it any less true. When it comes to encryption, either everyone is (more or less) protected or no one is protected.

In an age where so much of our lives is conducted through the Internet, we need that protection from the bad guys. Apple (and Google) really stepped it up to with their out-of-the-box encryption. They deserve our praise and thanks for making end-to-end encryption mainstream, not matter what you hear from the other side or their proxies.