New York Daily News
Think different, Tim Cook
Tap by tap, swipe by swipe, Apple’s refusal to help the FBI gain access to the contents of a dead terrorist’s cell phone becomes more crassly commercial — or paranoid. The tech giant has marketed its devices as impervious to hacking or invasions of privacy, thanks to passcode security.
You buy an Apple phone and you alone have the key to operating it, the company promises. All customers, including terrorists, are guaranteed secrecy, including in the face of search warrants.
One of the San Bernardino mass murderers had such a phone. Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to a court order to help the FBI open the device by acting as if the lawful directive was the beginning of the end of every Apple user’s privacy. He wrote:
“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.” Not anywhere close. As tech experts exposed Cook for making a privacy mountain out of a privacy molehill, Apple on Monday issued a new explainer that ever-so-slightly exposed the company’s branding motivations.
Now, the company concedes that “it is certainly possible” to comply with the court order . . . except doing so would end the world.
“The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it,” Apple hilariously warns.
The atom bomb this is not. Nor The One Ring to Rule Them All. The FBI asks Apple only to turn off a few features so anti-terror cops can try to hack the phone themselves. Namely:
Disable a feature that erases a phone’s contents after 10 failed passcode attempts, which may or may not be turned on in the dead terrorist’s phone.
Disable a feature that slows passcode entry after each attempt so that it could take more than five years to break into the phone.
Disable a feature requiring the passcode to be entered manually on a phone, allowing remote entry via another computer.
And do everything — safely, securely and privately — in an Apple facility so that no one outside Apple gets the software that makes the phone slightly more susceptible to being cracked.
The San Bernardino case focuses on one device, but other authorities want help with other phones.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, for one, is sitting on 175 iPhones crucial to investigations — homicides, attempted murder, sex abuse cases — that he cannot open. He’s also getting the back of Cook’s hand.
Warrants, properly obtained, should enable him to open the devices. He and the FBI are frustrated only because Cook has tried to set Apple above the U.S. Constitution, national security, criminal justice and potentially human life.
On untenable legal and political ground, Cook joined calls for a commission to help Congress navigate the thicket of issues around privacy, security and technology.
Such a panel could be helpful. But it’s for the future, while Apple is helping conceal the information on the phone of a dead terrorist who helped murder 14 people today. Cook must give it up.