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Musing #9: Siding with apple

It is a bit awkward for me to write in support of Apple for I never favoured its walled-garden approach. The only Apple device I ever purchased was an iPad 3 and while it continues to serve me presently as a magazine reader, I could never get around the iOS restrictions on customization and modification. Jailbreaking provided some scope for exploring the possibilities of the device but I eventually gave it up in favour of security, though with each update of iOS, the device is only becoming less usable.
However, I have digressed with my views on Apple’s philosophy for the focus of this article is the ongoing spat between Apple and FBI. To take a stand, I am firmly behind Apple on this one. Apple’s allegiance is first and foremost to the customer. To that end, it has to constantly endeavour in fulfilling a customer’s expectation of privacy and security. The only way to do so is to ensure that the device can be accessed by no one else other than the intended user which is precisely what Apple has been doing over the years. This requires the adoption of strong encryption and there are no two ways about it. Absolute security demands that privacy is not a function of any entity other than the user, not even the product manufacturer or the service provider. In a way, one can draw a parallel to VPN services that don’t store user logs. If it doesn’t exist, you cannot provide it. Apple hasn’t quite reached the “can’t do anything about it” stage, but it is getting there gradually and that is important. Compared to a VPN service, it ought to be much easier for Apple for one can argue that its control of the device ends as soon as it is sold to a customer unlike an ongoing subscription service. One can also extend the old school “boon or bane” debate to this argument for one is free to use the device as they please once they purchase it.
However, it has not always been like this. The Snowden leaks had revealed Apple’s collusion with the NSA over the years which has surreptitiously snooped behind a veil of secrecy. What has changed is the trust that one held with the government. It always has been a natural assumption that government agencies will work in the best interests of its citizens. The Snowden leaks have showcased that the 3-letter agencies can generally be trusted to care less about an individual’s privacy than multi-national companies. The government agencies have increasingly become desperate as they have lost control over encryption which can only be epitomised by the much maligned Clipper chip. They seem to have lost both the options, of beating them (through surveillance, encryption backdoors) and joining them (collusion with companies). Hence, one can justify their desperation.
However, even then, one has to question why the government agencies still try to gain public support through fear as is evident by the use of words and phrases like “bomb” and “blood on their hands” ever so often. One can construe that the real intent behind the case is to set a precedent where companies are forced to accede to all of the government agency requests. This is only meant to make their job easier for one can easily conjecture that they are still up to their knees in conducting surveillance and intercepting information. Also, it would be wrong to assume that the information cannot be retrieved at all without Apple’s help, only that it would take eons more time.

Weakening encryption is not an option and one should be able to fully appreciate Apple’s take on this. In the end, the human aspect will for eternity continue to be the weakest link in any cryptographic endeavour and that is where the real hacking does and will continue to take place. It would be for the best if Apple can win this case for the basic tenet of privacy and security is at stake. As has been mentioned in the past, this is not just about one person but about every person on earth. One can understand the underlying emotions attached to this case in terms of what has occurred, but at the same time, once the pandora’s box has been opened, there is no going back. Some things are best kept secret.

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