FBI Director James Comey
The public relations battle over whether Apple should be forced to create a back door into iOS for law enforcement was amped up on Sunday. FBI Director James Comey penned his own open letter to counter public comments from Apple and CEO Tim Cook arguing against those efforts. Mr. Comey's letter can best be summarized as follows:
1.) If you hate terrorism, you should support my efforts to force Apple to create a backdoor into iOS.
2.) Privacy advocates need to take a chill pill.
3.) We're just trying to do our job here, and only people who hate America don't want us to do our job.
4.) Despite all evidence to the contrary, this is a one-off thing that won't affect anyone else, ever.
So far, mainstream coverage has been very uncritical, presenting Mr. Comey's arguments with little or no attempt to add context. That's shameful, in my opinion; I personally find his open letter offensive in its tone, arguments, and the effort he goes to obfuscate the issues and paint privacy advocates as irrational.
Accordingly, let's dig into it with a little line-by-line.
The following letter from FBI Director James Comey was posted on Lawfare on February 21, 2016.
The San Bernardino litigation isn't about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message.
Except that it will set a precedent. We all know it, and FBI Director James Comey knows it, too.
It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That's what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.
This is a disgusting play in my opinion. It's nothing more than a maudlin push against our sympathy to convince us civil liberties should take aback seat to the pain and suffering of survivors of a brutal terrorist attack.
The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow.
Except that it's not. Once established, it will be used again and again, and every instance is an opportunity for the backdoor Apple creates to escape.
The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve.
Except that it's not. Still. You can say it over and over again, but that won't make it true.
We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly.
Yes, we get that you want to do this. Only you can't have that opportunity without criminal organizations and foreign agents eventually getting that same chance. This is well understood by encryption experts. Check with former NSA Director General Michael Hayden. He'll explain it to you.
That's it. We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land.
Except that it will. It will make encryption moot because it can be bypassed, and it's inevitable that it be let loose on the land. Again, these are foundational concepts that are well understood by the encryption world.
Next: James Comey Wants Us to Be Thoughtful