Apple vs. the surveillance state

“I want you to think!”

“How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?”

      — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

The FBI has ordered Apple to undertake a spyware development program. Apple is saying no. I applaud Apple, and I hope that if the FBI gets its way, the developers charged with the task will quit.

Tim Cook has pointed out:

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

The FBI isn’t just demanding that Apple unlock a phone. It’s demanding that Apple do basic research into undermining encryption. It’s conscripting researchers and developers for a major project to create new spy techniques. It’s absurd to think the FBI wants this program just for use in one case, where it may or may not turn up new evidence. The FBI wants a corps of serfs who will make people’s communication less secure. Less secure from it, from other federal agencies, and from any foreign government or gang of Internet crooks.

They’ve forgotten one thing: You can’t force a mind. You can’t make people think. If the developers say there’s no way to do what the FBI demands, will it shove them into prison camps? Will it do that with everyone who can’t satisfy its whims, like a medieval king throwing failed wizards into the dungeon?

I don’t work for Apple or create security software, but for whatever it’s worth, I’ll declare that my mind isn’t at the command of any governmental authority. I hope lots of people will do the same.

Update: Unfortunately, Tim Cook’s previous record undercuts his position. He’s declared that businesses should not have the freedom to decline orders that conflict with their religious beliefs. He mixes together many different issues in that article, but the freedom of small business owners to choose what kind of jobs they will accept is prominent among them. If people lose the freedom to decline an order when they go into business, then what does he base Apple’s stance on?

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