In Apple vs. the FBI, Technology Wins

By

3/22/2016

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Government policy and technology usually coexist in harmony. But occasionally, they get into a brawl. When this happens, policy may win a battle or two, but, ultimately, technology always wins. It simply isn’t a fair fight. Technology moves too fast for policy to keep up.

Take for example the infamous Microsoft versus the Department of Justice antitrust case. As one of the 12 Microsoft executives who was skewered on the witness stand by David Boies, I lived through this nightmare firsthand. The DOJ unambiguously won the legal battle. But policy didn’t win the war. While the DOJ certainly weakened Microsoft, what happened instead is technology, in particular the iPhone, broke the monopoly and now Microsoft is hopelessly behind in mobile computing.

Which brings us to the current war raging between technology and government policy. Apple has used encryption technology to protect user data on the iPhone. But they left a crack in the armor, and the FBI wants to create policy to jump through that tiny crack and read what is on Syed Farook’s phone.

What this tells us is that encryption works. If the FBI or NSA could break strong encryption, then they would remove the memory chips from Farook’s iPhone, copy the data and run it through a cloud of government computers to read the files. But they can’t. Encryption works.

So instead, the FBI has used the All Writs Act law from 1789 to convince a federal judge to force Apple to write a special version of iOS to unlock the iPhone of a bad guy in 2016. If that sounds unlikely, well, it just might work.

If this policy wins in court and the FBI forces Apple to break open Farook’s phone, it won’t stop there. Apple will begin living the nightmare of hundreds of state and federal judges demanding exactly the same thing. And that’s just the beginning; governments around the world will join in with their demands. Apple will be forced to unlock phones from Beijing to Moscow, phones of both bad guys and protesters fighting repressive regimes.

When policy wins a round against technology, it often runs amok.

 

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