Tags: Apple | iPhone | data | NSA

Is Apple Un-American for Resisting NSA?

By    |   Wednesday, 01 October 2014 08:42 AM

Some 10 million Apple fans, including this writer, queued up last month to buy Apple's (AAPL) new iPhone 6. It was a peaceful, festive occasion, marred only by a few cash-wielding Chinese phone smugglers.

I learned after purchasing my phone that it contains an unexpected benefit. Apple now encrypts iPhone data with a security code accessible only to the user. Even Apple itself can't break the code.

Encryption doesn't mean Apple can't retrieve the data. It simply means that the data will be gibberish. That, says Apple, is what it will give to any law enforcement or intelligence agencies who demand access to an iPhone's memory.

Police officials immediately went into convulsions. FBI Director James Comey, said, "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."

That's funny. Mr. Comey's FBI has been placing itself "beyond the law" since the J. Edgar Hoover days. Now's he's concerned ordinary people might do the same.

Comey has a kindred spirit in Chicago chief of detectives John Escalante, who said, "Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile."

That may be true, but it's also true that millions of non-pedophiles choose Apple phones. Escalante wants them to surrender their privacy because a tiny fraction abuse it. That attitude gave us the Prohibition and turned Chicago into a gangster's paradise. He should know better.

Apple's latest innovation notwithstanding, the government will still have plenty of information about you and your iPhone. They can still intercept phone calls and text messages at the wireless carrier level. We know AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) will happily betray their customers to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Likewise, data kept on Apple's iCloud storage service won't have the strong encryption now built into the iPhone. If the FBI or NSA want your data badly enough, they will get it. That's the practical reality.

We should all nonetheless appreciate Apple's change. Earlier this year I publicly called on CEO Tim Cook to resist the security state. He may have got the message, but don't fool yourself. This is a very small move.

I'm also not completely convinced it is real. Apple's carefully worded privacy policies contain many potential loopholes. We also know that the government has ordered companies to lie and then immunized executives from prosecution.

Even small steps could have a long-term benefit, though. The NSA's data vacuum is very effective at sucking up large amounts of unencrypted traffic. We save them a lot of work when we send our data in the clear.

Google (GOOG) says it will add similar capabilities to Android phone software soon. By nudging us to encrypt as much data as possible, the two companies will force the NSA to prioritize. Intelligence agencies will have to reserve their brute-force code-breaking resources for genuine terrorism suspects instead of snooping on everyone. That's what they should have been doing all along.

Are Google and Apple both un-American? Not at all. They are — finally — helping move the federal government back toward its American roots.

Getting there will take time . . . but this is a start.

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Some 10 million Apple fans, including this writer, queued up last month to buy Apple's (AAPL) new iPhone 6. It was a peaceful, festive occasion, marred only by a few cash-wielding Chinese phone smugglers.
Apple, iPhone, data, NSA
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2014-42-01
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 08:42 AM
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