Over the weekend, President Obama spoke several times about the current stand-off between the Justice Department and Apple over help in “breaking in” to a locked iPhone. The President came down, surprisingly, on the side of the FBI and urged Apple to reconsider its position.
President Obama likened the help the FBI is seeking as no different than when the police get a search warrant and enter someone’s home. Once inside the home, the police can open, read, and confiscate anything. The President stressed the search was a Court authorized event (therefore not unreasonable search and seizure).
The “surprising” part of President Obama’s position is that usually the President is suspicious of his cabinet bureaucracies. In this case, however, the President sees strengthening the FBI (and by extension all other police departments) as a necessary step.
Apple maintains that security is important to all its customers and were Apple to help create a “backdoor”, then all its customers would be at risk from entry by criminals and hackers. While this may be true, Apple is clearly concerned about its iPhone security reputation is other countries. Foreign customer might be thinking, is the American Government listening?
I think the President has gotten this one wrong… or is practicing deception. Most computer experts believe that the NSA could open the phone in a heart beat since it staffs as many or more hackers and geeks as does Apple. According to Washington gossip, the NSA has told the FBI no thanks when asked for help. As President, NSA’s demur could vanish in an instant. On this basis, one could reasonably conclude that the President is trying to deceive other governments over the possibility that the NSA already knows how to enter a locked iPhone.
Privacy rights were written into the Constitution for a reason. Governments, law enforcement, and other investigatory agencies do not always follow due process, nor do they always have a just reason in attempting to gain entry. The 4th Amendment was adopted specifically to moderate an over zealous search.
The best face I can put on the President’s position is that the President is trying to convince the world that iPhones are secure and that no one (read the NSA) can get through the phone’s encryption. The President may think that Apple will prevail and the President can tell the FBI, well I tried.
For a President who has seen the limits of his own government’s agencies, I can not bring myself to think he really believes his argument as applied to the San Bernardino terrorist.