Apple vs the FBI: Go on, Apple!

18/02/2016

At the FBI’s urging, a federal magistrate has ordered Apple to create a program that will allow the FBI to get into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.  They claim this a one-off thing; they just want to gain access to the shooter’s phone.  On the radio I heard a federal justice spokesman explain it like this:  “If the FBI had a warrant to enter and search a house, but the house had a combination lock that would permanently lock the door if the wrong combination was entered a few times, the FBI would knock the door in using a tank.  All we want is for Apple to supply us with the tank.”

But that is nonsense.  If the locked-door scenario happened, the FBI would bring their own tank to knock the door in.  They wouldn’t ask a lock manufacturer to build the tank for them.

The US government have wanted a back-door into Apple’s iPhones for a while now. This has especially been the case since September 2014, when Apple introduced new encryption into its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock them for investigators. This was a departure from the past, when investigators could get access to a device if they sent it to Apple headquarters with a search warrant.

The US authorities are painting this as strictly an anti-terrorism move, and that it would apply only to the iPhone in question.  But that is plain wrong.  Ever since the Ed Snowden revelations, FBI director James Comey has been trying to figure out a way around the software as he and Apple’s Tim Cook have traded barbs publicly and privately.  And now he and his colleagues are using thie San Bernadino murders as a way to create case law that could force tech companies to provide back doors into their products.  The FBI claim they want Apple to create a master key just for the one iPhone; but once the precedence had been set, the authorities would use the Apple master key whenever they felt like it, and would be on sure ground to insist other Silicon Valley companies do the same.

Security professionals have pointed out that back doors are not the way to carry out investigations: see here and here for just a couple of examples.  The tragic San Bernadino shootings are, I’m sorry to say, just a way for the US authorities to get the back doors they want on faulty reasoning.  I’m happy Apple have contested this court order.  I don’t like Apple products or their propriety approach, but I’m at one with them that individual freedom is paramount.  After all, isn’t individual freedom what we are trying to defend from people like ISIS?

In addition to that: criminals might get hold of back door tools and use them to steal identities, bank details etc; and oppressive foreign governments might use them to persecute pro-democracy activists.  The authorities will obviously claim that no one will be able to access these master keys.  But the US government, among others, have suffered theft of data frequently; and foreign governments have spies, whose job is to steal secret tools and information.

To go back to the locked door and tank scenario: in this case the US authorities should bring their own tank – the NSA.  Or do they really expect us to believe that the NSA couldn’t crack this one phone?

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Apple: doing the right thing


Photography != Terrorism… no matter *what* they say!!

11/01/2010


I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before: but I’m a keen amateur photographer. In the olden days, when photographers still used film, I had a succession of Pentax cameras: an ME Super, a Program A, and I still have a SF7. But film is old hat nowadays, we all use digital; and I couldn’t afford a digital SLR, so for now I’m using a Fujifilm S5700 “bridge” camera. Still, it’s okay for my favourite types of photography: landscape, architectural, and its small size maks it grrreat for street photography.

Unfortunately, photography in general and street photography in particular are in real trouble here in the UK. Why? Because the police have got it into their heads that photographers are all potential terrorists!

I’m not sure, but I think this paranoid delusion first took hold when the police found photos of “potential targets” in the belongings of terror suspects. Individual officers were told to keep an eye out for photographers both overt and covert as they might be performing reconnaissance for an attack. This has resulted in street and architectural photographers being harrassed, searched and detained by police and community support officers, chiefly in London but also in other towns and cities.

The UK magazine Amateur Photographer has been running a campaign to defend our rights since 2005, when police persecution of photographers first became apparent. There’s a nice article on the AP website that runs through the campaign, starting with Roy Jhuboo who was stopped and searched by overzealous officers when he was out and about taking photos in Limehouse, East London. The police told Jhuboo that he’d been searched because “he could have been on a reconnaissance mission to launch a ‘rocket’ on nearby Canary Wharf.” Two police vans full of officers were sent to intercept him because he had been seen taking a photo of a house!

Since AP began their campaign in 2005, government figures have sought to reassure us that photographers in general are not being targetted. And both the government and ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) have publicly issued advice saying that photographers should not be bothered unless there are good grounds for suspicion. Yet every week there are more stories in the magazine telling how photographers have been stopped, searched, even arrested by police for no more reason than taking photos in public places. The City of London Police even told AP that anyone taking photos in central London should expect searches and demands for identification, even though this directly goes against the guidance all forces have received from the government and ACPO on this subject.

Opposition to the police stance on photographers is wide-spread and growing. MPs who are also enthusiastic photographers have raised the subject in Parliament. Professional photographers working for the media have got the issue in the news. But the harrassment continues. I would ask all photographers to support Amateur Photographer in its campaign to defend our rights. It is gradually becoming acceptable in the eyes of the police and some members of the public. We need to stop this! We need to reinforce the fact that we have the right to take photos in public places. We must not allow the police and their political masters to create a climate in which innocent photography can be banned.

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