The latest encryption war is over.

The FBI has mounted an aggressive maneuver to get Apple to unlock the iPhone used by a terrorist, and I hope Apple figures out a way to provide the data the government needs without making any compromises over data security and user privacy. That might not be possible, but let's face it--Big Tech has not capitulated to the U.S. government. They never made a secret agreement. Edward Snowden won.

Now we have to debate whether that's a good thing.

Or express our opinion in the voting booth.

What's obvious in this latest war over encryption is that the FBI does not have the software required to crack the iPhone. There is no way to dismantle the device, decrypt the data, and look through the contacts and other information that could aid officials in their investigation--at least, no reliable way to do that. It's obvious Apple never created a backdoor for the FBI. It follows that the other big names in tech, including Google and Facebook, didn't capitulate to the feds, either.

What's not so obvious is when it might be necessary to give up some rights to privacy for the greater good, and that issue will likely end up in the Supreme Court.

It will also become the hot topic of the spring and summer throughout the presidential race, and particularly at the upcoming SxSW conference in Austin. We know Donald Trump has already taken a side against Apple. Marco Rubio has the most sane response (not to take a political side, it just makes the most sense). He's argued that breaking the encryption in this case will reveal to the rest of the world that our government set a precedent in asking for a backdoor, which will then prompt those outside of the U.S. to provide "impenetrable" encryption.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did not pick a side in the last Democratic debate between Apple and the FBI. Again, not to get political, but Clinton has an uphill battle in convincing people she can stand up for Big Tech when she ran her own email server and possibly betrayed the trust of the American people by housing ultra-sensitive information that was left unprotected. In many ways, she's already taken a stand on the encryption debate. It's not as important to her.

Even the security experts view this as a thorny issue.

"The average American doesn't know a backdoor from a screen door, and more importantly, doesn't care," says Jeff Hill from STEALTHbits. "Privacy advocates are unquestionably on the right side of this issue philosophically, but in the real world, the vast majority of Americans are less concerned about their credit card being stolen off a less secure iPhone than they are a terrorist collecting automatic weapons and explosives in the next apartment."

"It will be extremely difficult to have a solution where only law enforcement can extract encrypted data on a smartphone," adds Clay Calvert from MetroStar Systems. "If a 'back door' exists then it is only a matter of time before someone figures out how to take advantage of that opening. It is also a major concern that if such an opening is available for U.S. law enforcement then other countries would want and demand the same access."

Frankly, the only win here so far is that we now know the U.S. government did not convince Apple and other tech firms to create a backdoor, otherwise they would have never demanded the assistance. A back door may have existed at one time; it doesn't anymore. At least that is a win for data encryption and user privacy.

Published on: Feb 23, 2016
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