Apple, the FBI and cryptography

by Neil Rickert

This is about the case in the news, where Apple is refusing to comply with an FBI request to help them access an iPhone.

I side with Apple on this, and that’s the main thrust of this post.

I described what I see as the technical issues in a post on my technical blog.


When I was growing up, everybody knew everybody.  The shopkeeper knew what kind of food we normally purchased.  The neighborhood butcher knew what kind of meat we purchased.  In some sense, there wasn’t a lot of privacy.  However, what they knew was not written down.  The cash register receipt listed only the amount paid.  It did not list the items purchased.  It would have been very difficult for anybody to use that knowledge to construct a detailed dossier on our family.

Today, we are in a very different world.  Everything thing is record, and some records are archived where they will be available for long periods of time.  My relation with the shopkeeper (really, the supermarked manager) is far more impersonal.  But he has recorded data about the items that I have purchased with my credit card.  I probably should pay cash, to make it hard to identify me from the recorded data.

Today, it is far easier to build a detailed dossier.  And identity thieves do just that, as a way of stealing identities and then using the stolen identity to steal from bank accounts.

Due to our modern use of technology, privacy is a far more important issue today than it was when I was growing up.


We need the ability to encrypt, in order to protect our privacy.  Encryption is about the only protection that we have from building of detailed personal dossiers.

I still talk to neighbors.  My talking is not encrypted.  I still make purchases at local stores, and that is not encrypted.  Most of my activity is not encrypted, because I don’t have anything to hide.  Nevertheless, I see encryption as important.  I do use an encrypted disk on my computer.  I do expect online banking to be done over an encrypted channel.

I am currently preparing my 2015 tax return.  I make sure that the data collected by the tax software is stored on an encrypted disk (encrypted file system).

Most of us may have nothing to hide.  But we all have recorded data that needs to be protected from identity thieves and other miscreants.  We all need encryption for some of what we do.


We can understand the FBI wanting access to what they see as important data.  That’s their job.  But we must always protect our right to encryption.  And the demands that FBI is making threaten that right.  That’s why I support the stand that Apple is taking.

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