Apple vs FBI – More Democracy, Not More Technology, Is the Answer

Should Apple yield to FBI:s demands and disable the function that deletes all content on an Iphone after 15 unsuccessful login attempts? If you’re a cybersecurity expert, the answer is no. The more encryption, the better. Any action that makes cybersecurity weaker makes the digital world less safe for everyone. If you’re a criminal investigator, it’s an important part of an investigation that ultimately can make the real world more safe for everyone. If you’re an internet activist, you may think that government institutions (and most companies and NGOs for that matter) are corrupt and the only way forward is through anonymous technology. And while some say authoritarian states may use the back door for bad reasons, as Peter Warren points out in his story on this issue, the US government could of course open the phone anyway if it wanted to (it’s a question of who blinks first), so could the dictators. President Obama spoke about this at the SXSW-festival in Austin, Texas last week (or rather he dodged the actual topic and spoke only about it in principle) saying that the encryption versus national security debate won’t be settled by taking an “absolutist view”. Tech companies would be better off helping law enforcement in a few important cases, rather than refuse completely and end up in a worse situation with a rushed law if there is a more important problem in the future. (Netopia can’t tell for sure who the president trusts less, Congress or Silicon Valley.)

One can of course have many questions about the American legal system, but ultimately there is rule of law and legal certainty in the US. The internet is not a free for all where anyone can do what they want, whether it’s a business abusing privacy rights, a government spying on its citizens or a criminal hacking into servers – democracy must rule them all, the government agencies and legal system are an extension of that democracy, not the threat to it. With the FBI and the killers’ Iphone, there is a court mandate for this particular case, which is very different from the illegal blanket surveillance from the NSA that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on. Yes, privacy is important, but that is much better protected with more democracy than more technology.