The Need for Encryption

Tim Cook wrote a letter to Apple’s customers (and in my opinion, the entire world) regarding the United States government ordering Apple to weaken the encryption of iOS devices by adding a backdoor. And Apple is fighting it.

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Please go read Tim Cook’s entire letter.

Make no mistake, this is a pivotal moment in our security and privacy in the digital age. It’s my opinion that Apple is fighting for citizens’ rights here, protecting us from the United States government. And if such a backdoor to encryption is forced upon us, criminals will find and use it to exploit each and every one of us.

And this is certainly about more than this single iPhone. Marco Arment has said it best in what I’ve read today:

As we’ve learned from national hero Edward Snowden and, well, almost every other high-profile action taken by law enforcement recently, this most likely has very little to do with the specific crime or iPhone that the FBI is citing in this case.

It’s their excuse to establish precedent and permanent backdoors for themselves so they can illegally spy on anyone’s data whenever they please. They’re shamelessly using a horrible tragedy to get themselves more power.

I believe in encryption. In this day and age, encryption is what gives us privacy in the digital world. In a previous age, privacy was as simple as closing your door and locking it. Yes, law enforcement can always obtain a warrant and circumvent your locks by breaking your door. But nowhere is it written that your locks must be weak enough to be broken. If your door is 12 inches of steel, well, that’s your privilege.

And for those of you who think Apple should stand aside and help the FBI by weakening encryption because you think you have nothing to hide, go and read Tim Cook’s letter again, but substitute Chinese government and Russian goverment wherever Tim writes U.S. government.

Do you still think encryption is worth weakening? If Apple is forced to capitulate to the FBI, other governments will come knocking on the encryption door, too.