Thursday, 18 February 2016 12:02

Apple stands up for consumers. Alone Featured


The technology company that embodies closed, proprietary practices more than any other has taken a stand on behalf of its customers, a stand that will take it into territory never traversed before.

In rejecting a court order obtained by the FBI to ask it to create a backdoor into the iOS operating system, Apple has done what no other technology company has done – asked the government to choose whether the interests of the people at large are important or whether its desire to snoop takes precedence.

The most shameful thing about this is that no other big entity has stood up and joined Apple in asking the government to stop its fishing expedition. The biggest player in the mobile market, Google, has made a wishy-washy statement that what the FBI has done is a troubling precedent.

But in not coming out in support of Apple openly, it has sided with the government. However given that Google is practically an arm of the US State Department, one did not expect any acts of courage to be shown.

Microsoft is silent too. The courage it showed in refusing to release the contents of an email server in Ireland to the government appears to have vanished.

Facebook, likewise. Mark Zuckerberg may talk a lot, but it is all mere bluster. Samsung, IBM and Yahoo! have also kept quiet and thus support the government.

Only a number of smaller entities — Mozilla, search engine DuckDuckGo, WhatsApp and the anonymous browser Tor — have joined with Apple. It is a crying shame.

Cook's letter to customers is a masterpiece. It is the most wonderful piece of marketing, the best message for the company that anyone can put out.

For the uninformed, the FBI has asked Apple to create a backdoor for its mobile operating system so that it can use brute force — random guessing — to find out what is on an iPhone belonging to one of the people who staged an attack in San Bernardino, California, last year.

Cook's letter puts it very simply: "But now the US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone."

And he goes on to say that while the FBI is asking only for one phone to be broken, that is the beginning of the end of proper security for consumers. After that, it will be open slather.

In some places, Cook sounds more like the maverick US presidential candidate wanna-be Bernie Sanders: "Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the US government."

Technology consultant Richard Forno, a veteran in the security industry and one who has worked for the government as well, pointed out that while the FBI is demanding a backdoor, "the NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers has already stated publicly there is no need for such backdoors or law enforcement access, and that strong internet security features are more of a benefit than risk to society".

Apple has the resources, both legal and monetary, to take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court. There will be no more defining moment in the technology industry than the moment when this case is decided.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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