February 17th, 2016


Gotta hand it to the FBI. Take their proposal of a completely custom system build that would circumvent various protections that are designed to keep people away from your information, and consider it on purely technical matters. It’s simple to explain to technical people, and it’s simple to explain to people that are not that well-versed in technology.

But consider this. There is no such thing as a safe-guarded backdoor. Do you really believe that once one government agency gets their hands on such a system build, it will only be used to help the “good guys”? If you are, I’d love to live in the fantasy world you’re inhabiting.

In the real world that the rest of us live in, this will be nothing short of a disaster. This custom build will get shared between various government agencies and branches, with an absolute guarantee of two things happening. First, it will get to an agency that is solely overseen by secret courts that rubberstamp pretty much every request. Second, it will get into the hands of general public, sooner rather than later – through social-engineered hacking or another Snowden-like act of political activism.

And then there’s another absolute guarantee. Let’s for a minute say that if you’re a law-abiding US citizen, then the US government is good guys. Then there are other governments who are our allies, which makes them good guys by proxy, and there are other governments which are our enemies which makes them bad guys.

What is going to stop other governments from demanding access to the same special system build? How many countries can a multi-national corporation withdraw their business from before it has no more places to do business in? How do you as a supporter of lawful information “extraction” decide on which laws you agree with and which step over “the line” that separates the good guys from the bad guys?

There’s not a single line in Tim Cook’s letter that is a gratuitous exaggeration of the dangers that lie ahead. I’ve spent the first twenty years of my life living in the communist USSR, where it was pretty safe to assume that the state had the capabilities and the means to do mass surveillance of anybody and everybody.

How does the self-aggrandizing beacon of democracy turn into the omnipresent surveillance state? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly (in the mighty words of Ernest Hemingway). Just don’t tell your kids that you didn’t see it coming.