Can You Get a Genie Back in the Bottle?

Well I sure picked a bad day to spend offline!

Apple caused quite a stir in the past 24 hours by posting an open letter in which Tim Cook states plainly that Apple will not comply with the FBI’s request to create a backdoor into the iPhone 5C. For a nice breakdown of the entire situation, read Christina Warren’s piece on Mashable and come back when you’re done.

Now I’m not a lawyer or law expert by any means, so I don’t feel qualified to make any legal statements on the matter. What I do know is that civil liberties are not something that we can give away temporarily to the government and expect them to give them back without a fight. You see this throughout history where a government asks for a little bit of freedom right now to save you from some certain danger. We all want to be safe and we really want the bad guys to get caught, so we tend to give in. Besides, it’s just one little thing.

But those “little things” add up and we find those rights we used to enjoy have suddenly vanished. A prime example of this is The Patriot Act, which passed in October 2001, just one month after the 9/11 terror attacks. That bill which would never have gone through in normal times was passed because it seemed like maybe that would stop this sort of thing from happening again. We’re just over 14 years beyond this bill passing, and most of its tenants are still in place. It took the leaks of Edward Snowden in 2013 and the outrage that caused for these rules to be addressed in the USA Freedom Act, although many of the same overreaching allowances are still there.

The point is that once you give someone power, it’s very difficult to take it away from them. The FBI says they only want the custom build of iOS for the San Bernardino iPhone and not for other ones, but what are the odds that will be the case? What are the odds the FBI has access1 to a custom build of iOS that lets them break into any iPhone they like? What if the political winds push Apple to bake this into all versions of iOS so the FBI can cut out the middleman every time they need to access someone’s information? Who knows the specifics, but I can be pretty confident that this “one time” allowance will be anything but.

My initial reaction is that I stand with Apple on this issue. I understand the desire of the FBI to be able to access the information they want, but I also think it’s critical to not just say yes every time ask for just a little more freedom. Apple has drawn a pretty decisive line in the sand and I can’t wait to see how this story develops over the next couple weeks.


  1. Either by having the version in hand or even just knowing that Apple can, and is willing to make a version for you.