Monday, March 7, 2016

The Apple and the Fall

My latest article is now live at

The recent developments with the FBI demanding that Apple help them gain access to the iPhone of a terrorist has really got a lot of people thinking.  Terrorists are deplorable and we should do all we can to capture them and prevent acts of terrorism from occurring.  But what does it mean to do all we can to prevent all acts of terrorism from occurring?  While everyone agrees terrorists must be stopped there is great debate over how we stop them.  Do the ends justify the means?

I see both sides of this issue.  On the one hand Apple (and other tech companies) have done their best as of late to convince their customers that their data is safe – thank you Mr. Snowden.  They have worked hard to make sure when we use their devices that our personal information, our private communications, and everything else that makes up our data is secure and only accessible to the owner of the data.  In the analog world this would be the safety deposit box in a steel vault at the bank.  It is designed to keep everyone out except those who have access privileges.

On the other hand, the government is charged with keeping the people safe and wants to do everything possible to prosecute acts of terrorism and prevent future acts from occurring.  To do that they have the ability to obtain warrants and gain access to personal property and information to help solve and prevent crime.  In the analog days this would be getting a warrant and forcing the bank to open the steel vault and then open the safety deposit box.

But what happens when all of this becomes digital?  What happens when the steel vault is an encryption algorithm and the safety deposit box is an iPhone and the individual holding the key is deceased after committing a horrible crime impacting many innocent lives?

In the analog world, we could easily figure out a way to get into the vault and safety deposit box.  It might take a while but it can be done – as evidenced by several recent high profile thefts from thieves breaking into super secure vaults to steal money and jewelry.  In the digital world though it isn’t as easy.  We can’t just drill through yards of concrete or blow the door off.  There is no concrete and there is no door.

Because of the divide between the digital world and analog world the government is now asking, through the FBI, that Apple provide a way into the phone.  Apple is refusing.  The government needs Apple because the tools of the analog world won’t work here.  They need the creator of the device to help them access it.

If this situation has done nothing else, it has pointed out how out –of-date our laws and legal system are to handle these situations.  The law the government is using as their reason why Apple should help them is the All Writs Act from 1789, signed into law by George Washington.  While this law was amended in 1948 and 1949 (still well before the digital age) there is a great deal of question as to its application based on a Supreme Court case in 1977 where the government wanted help tracing phone calls.

The amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about this event is amazing.  While on the surface the request may appear simple enough, the consequences are tremendous.  Should Apple, or any tech company for that matter, have to create and then secure a backdoor into their software?  I know many are debating the semantics of the request but the bottom line is they are asking for something that doesn’t exists and would have to be destroyed or protected after it was created.

This reminds me of another time in our history when the US government needed technology and science to help them bring a World War to an end.  The Manhattan Project ran from 1942-1946 and was tasked with creating a super weapon to help end World War II.  The weapon did not exist but was possible in theory.  If they succeeded the consequences would change the path of the planet but success came with a price.  Yes, the war was brought to a quick conclusion without having to invade Japan, simultaneously saving thousands of lives and putting millions more in jeopardy.  As a result, the US and its allies have spent every day since trying to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands.  The world would also come to the brink of nuclear destruction as a result of the Cold War that followed.

Apple is being asked to create special access to bypass the security on an iPhone that doesn’t exist today.  If they create it, and it leaks out then what?  Those “bad actors” would certainly get in line to get access to the ability to gain access to phones around the world.  Just like the Manhattan Project the results of creating such a tool could change the course of the planet.

But what does all of this mean to us?  The nation is clearly divided on this issue and I find myself agreeing with people I rarely agree with and on the opposite side from those with which I would typically align.

First, the solution to terrorism is not hacking an iPhone, the solution is Jesus Christ.  Only by believing and trusting in Him can people change and “bad actors” can become citizens of heaven.  Second, Romans 13:1-7 provides a view of how Christians should relate to their government.  Does that mean if this case reaches the Supreme Court and a ruling is rendered that we must abide by it?  Third, God calls all of us to participate in our government and to be good citizens.  That includes voting, paying taxes, and taking part in discussions with our government officials – including discussions about balancing our security with our privacy.

Ben Franklin said, "Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."  While this quote has been ripped out of context I think the principle he is referring to applies to what we are facing now.  Each one of us has to decide.  I know many who would happily give up some privacy in order to be more secure.  I know many who abhor that idea.  Whatever you believe, I hope that you will take this opportunity to get involved.  Our government is going to have to figure this out and they will need our help to do it.  Politicians are not software engineers and encryption specialists and engineers and encryption specialists are not politicians.  Pray for our elected officials and participate in the privilege that is our democracy.