The Problem with Back Doors

Apple has landed in the soup again with the U.S. Justice Department over its inability (or refusal?) to give access to the Pensacola shooter’s phone. This is a similar issue to that faced with the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone a few years ago. Apple makes the iPhone with the intention of securing user data, even from Apple itself. There is an ongoing cat and mouse game where hackers find vulnerabilities and Apple plugs them but the goal, on Apple’s end at least, is that the only people who see what’s on your iPhone is you.

I haven’t been able to confirm, but I suspect that with the Pensacola shooter, it is one of those issues where Apple can’t break its own encryption. The government folks that are tasked with prosecuting bad guys hate that. They want the ability to read accused criminal’s phones to do their jobs. This current conversation hasn’t run its full course yet but inevitably it will get to the concept of back doors.

Specifically, what if Apple built a back door into the operating system that only a few people had access to so they could get access when the case is made but otherwise protect our privacy. The problem is that the existence of a back door means it will inevitably be opened … on everyone. I simply don’t believe a back door would ever remain secret.

I don’t believe this is something where we just go along with the government’s desire for yet another privacy invasion for all of us. Such a back door in the hands of a bad actor, or an oppressive state, is something I don’t want to think about too long. Furthermore, if such a back door were installed, the terrorists and sophisticated criminals would simply move to some other platform and still have secured communications and data, while the rest of us no longer do.

I sympathize with law enforcement for wanting access to this data. I worked briefly in the criminal justice system and I know how maddening it would be to know you have a magic envelope with evidence in it and no way to open that envelope. I just think the sacrifice involved with creating a back door is too much to ask.

I do think this discussion isn’t over though. Apple sells into a lot of countries. Any one of them could require they install a back door as a condition of access to the market. Apple’s principals are on a collision course with a massive loss of income. Is it just a question of time before governmental regulation and market pressures make this period of time, where all citizens have relatively secured data and communications, only a temporary phase? I sure hope not.