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Give Me Liberty, Kind Of

February 19th, 2016

I’m not sure if Apple’s motivations in refusing to give the FBI unfettered access to iPhones is altruistic or selfish, nor does it matter to me; I believe that what Apple is doing in this current case, as a general principle, should be the model to follow.

We effectively have little or no Fourth Amendment protection at this point, at least in regard to the government accessing our private data—our “papers,” as it is classically termed. The FISA courts are a joke, essentially rubber-stamping each request. It is not judicial oversight when the judge is complicit and agrees to mass surveillance no matter what.

Will allowing devices like phones or forms of encrypted Internet access allow terrorists to work unimpeded? Perhaps, but there are two huge caveats.

First, terrorists are hardly limited to these forms of security. All it takes is a pre-arranged cypher (A seemingly random communication of almost any type sent at a certain time of day from this person rather than that one equals a call to carry out an attack at x time at y location) which is used only once and then changed, or reliance on carefully discreet personal communication only, or any number of other methods, to confound surveillance and assure security. Opening iPhones will not greatly affect terrorists who are serious about security.

And second, as the saying goes, freedom isn’t free. The founders themselves recognized that greater individual freedom from government overreach would cause greater risk, but that the increased risk was far less important than the potential of losing civil liberties. We’ve become far too willing to surrender those liberties for that modicum of security.

I am not at all impressed by the claims that Obama is a constitution scholar; he seems to be a fairly bad one, especially where privacy is involved. I rather hope he is never appointed to the Supreme Court. But we as citizens must not be cowed by claims of terror and other violence will overwhelm us. What the government is doing has only a limited effect on thwarting determined terrorists from attacking, but it has an overwhelming and frightening impact on our freedoms and liberties.

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  1. Troy
    February 21st, 2016 at 01:05 | #1

    I realize this is politics and not logic, but I’m not a big fan of slippery slope arguments.

    What the FBI requested is reasonable, just putting an OS on the device that would make guessing passwords possible.

    My liberty isn’t diminished in the slightest by this.

  2. Luis
    February 21st, 2016 at 01:40 | #2

    It sounds so innocuous, “guessing passwords.” The “guessing” can take place over a wireless connection, at high speed, for an indefinite number of attempts, by an organization which already has access to large amounts of your personal information helping them make those guesses. Essentially, the FBI request would be a key to unlock anyone’s iPhone remotely and access their data.

    The FISA court issues 2000+ secret warrants a year, rejecting almost no request given to them, some of those warrants so broad that they command communications networks to hand over comprehensive data on all telephone calls going through their systems. When the agency using that level of intrusiveness into the communications of millions of innocent people then asks to weaken the security on everyone’s personal data devices so that the government can also access their stored data by default…

    Well, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t see that as being neutral to my right to privacy.

    My point is that we need to scale back the government’s intrusion into our privacy, not enable it on a massive scale. That isn’t a slippery slope, any more than it’s a slippery slope to claim that it isn’t the greatest idea in the world to give Catholic priests unlimited, unsupervised access to young boys’ locker rooms. When there’s abuse, you don’t enable the abusers in a way that cannot be reliably safeguarded. Just saying.

  3. Troy
    February 22nd, 2016 at 04:58 | #3

    What you wrote isn’t what the FBI wants now with the current case.

    Certainly all that is a nice tool for a totalitarian system to employ to repress its populace.

    Again, we’re not there, and if we are there we have bigger problems than the FBI.

  4. Luis
    February 22nd, 2016 at 09:44 | #4

    Since I wrote that I have found several different explanations with differing takes on what the FBI is asking for. Some say that it is exactly what I described, others say it is a tool that the FBI would never see and would only stay on the Apple campus, and Apple would be required to give info to the FBI in each case. Hard to tell exactly what is being asked for; depends on which article you read or which explanation you hear…

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