A Break, and Secrets

I wanted to do something light today, and was going to talk about secret doors and secret passages, being one of the few classic Gothic haunted house tropes missing from tthe Agatha Christie’s Marple episode S06E02, Greenshaw’s Folly. The script painstakingly included many other elements (forbidden room, laboratory, garden of poisonous plants, shameful family secret, ghost sightings…) but no rotating bookshelves. Secret passages are not regarded as fair play in classic whodunit fiction.

Then I got home and was tired, and really the only thing on my mind is the whole iPhone affair in which the FBI wants Apple to make a version of the iOS that would allow them to more easily brute-force the PIN to the iPhone of the late Syed Rizwan Farook. Right now the debate of whether or not the courts should require it, and whether or not Apple should cooperate is going down.

And thankfully other correspondents are saying this better than I would as tired as I am:

The topmost question should not be Should Apple cooperate with the FBI’s efforts to unlock the phone?, or Should the courts force Apple to provide information regarding how to unlock the phone? but for me, it’s How is it tolerable that decrypting an iPhone is feasible at all?

Say the phone in question was not that of a dead gunman but a living sexual assault victim, and say some Apple officials wanted very much to protect the assailant even if it meant ruining the life of this victim. Say this official wanted the phone decrypted. Should he be capable of doing it?

The answer, in my opinion, is no.

And we have the technology to allow for this, so that only someone with a correct (and reasonably strong) password can decrypt the phone’s data and cryptanalysis of the phone would be impossible or at least expensive (e.g. take a team of expert techs and a speedy mainframe months, years, or even centuries.)

We have this tech already. The algorithms are even open-source. So why is Apple not using them, if they are truly interested in the privacy of their end users?

This question is far more interesting to me than whether or not the courts can force Apple to break open the phone, or whether or not Apple should cooperate to see the data of a dead killer.

Because the FBI is not the only party interested in opening encrypted Apple phones. And neither the FBI nor Apple can really be trusted with that data.

Proper writing resumes tomorrow. I may talk about more physical secret doors and their use in fiction.


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