Date: February 18, 2016

Apple’s fight against backdoors is about protecting your security, not terrorists

The U.S. FBI is trying to compel Apple to make a change to its software that would allow it to hack into the iPhone of the terrorist behind the San Bernardino shooting. Apple is refusing, citing privacy and security concerns of its users.

This case isn’t about protecting terrorists from having their information accessed by the U.S. government, it’s about protecting innocent users. As I argued in December, Americans have the right to encryption devices.

There are many individuals and institutions that are much worse than the U.S. government, and all of them would have the access to the same drives and communications channels as the NSA and FBI.

This particular case has specifics that defenders of the government’s position could argue would limit it to only a small amount of phones–for more on the specifics, I would recommend reading Slate’s Will Oremus or Ben Thompson’s Stratechery–but the principle of information security should be applied forthrightly. After all, if someone argues that, because it is not as easy to hack into new iPhones as it is to hack into the old 5C the shooter was using, Apple should go ahead and do it, then they are leaving the door open for hacking into later versions of the phone if any when it becomes technologically feasible to do so (or to have the government compel Apple to make it possible in new versions).

Remember: Any precedent that applies to (suspected, or, in this case, proven) terrorists applies to everyone. Someone wrongly suspected of crimes or someone the government has self-interest in hacking could be next, and the backdoor could be used by foreign governments or hackers.

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Munich Security Conference 2016 and the foreign policy implications

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Key points:

  1. If the Kremlin decides it’s a cold war, it is a cold war…regardless of what US/West wants. “The enemy gets a vote”…as Gen MadDog Mattis said. One cannot walk away, if a conflict is thrust on them by adversarial powers…and sooner or later, the West needs to come in terms to that.
  2. Major implications for China, if US-Russia bogged down in proxy conflicts in Europe and Middle East, China can develop economically more, with free hand in Africa, and Lat-Am and also in the finance sectors in UK and Germany.
  3. Russia is not the Soviet Union. The intention is there, but not the capability and global reach. Any proxy conflict will be localised in mainly East Europe an Middle East.
  4. However, if US leaves the ME to Russia and other regional powers to balance, and focuses attention to Asia, it will be interesting to see in the next few years. Just a word of caution, any conflict in Europe and Middle East, will pale in comparison to a Great Power war in Asia.

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