Surprise: Pro-Surveillance WSJ Editorial Board Sides With Apple Over FBI

from the good-for-them dept

Well here’s a surprise. The Wall Street Journal Editorial board, which is notoriously pro-surveillance, has come out with an editorial that argues that Apple is right on encryption and should resist the FBI’s demands. I was not expecting that. This is the same WSJ that fought hard against amending the PATRIOT Act, which it insisted was necessary for surveillance. This is the same WSJ that published an editorial calling Ed Snowden a sociopath and arguing for less oversight of the NSA. Hell, it’s the same WSJ that a little over a year ago published a piece by former publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, arguing that Apple is crazy for not installing backdoors in its iPhones.

But, for whatever reason, in this case, the WSJ editorial board has Apple’s back. Not only that, but unlike many news reports, this piece actually seems to get the facts right and “debunks” many of the myths floating around — many that are being pushed by the FBI and its supporters:

One confusion promoted by the FBI is that its order is merely a run-of-the-mill search warrant. This is false. The FBI is invoking the 1789 All Writs Act, an otherwise unremarkable law that grants judges the authority to enforce their orders as ?necessary or appropriate.? The problem is that the All Writs Act is not a catch-all license for anything judges want to do. They can only exercise powers that Congress has granted them.


The other myth is that Apple is merely being asked to crack ?one phone in the entire world,? as Marco Rubio puts it. This is also false. The Justice Department is beseeching Apple to provide software retrofits in at least a dozen public cases, and state and local prosecutors have stacks of backlogged iPhones they want unlocked too. In the New York case Apple won this week, prosecutors want Apple to unlock an iPhone even though the owner has pleaded guilty.

The opinion piece also recognizes just how crazy it would be if the DOJ wins and how far the precedent reaches:

Congress could instruct tech makers from now on to build ?back doors? into their devices for law-enforcement use, for better or more likely worse. But this back-door debate has raged for two years. In the absence of congressional action, the courts can?t now appoint themselves as a super legislature to commandeer innocent third parties ex post facto.

What makes the FBI?s request so extraordinary is that the iPhone encryption and security methods were legal when they were created and still are. Apple has no more connection to the data on Farook?s phone than Ford does to a bank robber who uses an F-150 as a getaway vehicle.

This is all pretty accurate, which is a surprise, given how vehement the WSJ’s editorial pages have been in the past in support of greater surveillance powers. On its own the WSJ piece is a nice summary of the issue. However, given the source, it’s absolutely amazing. It suggests that, even among its usual allies, the DOJ’s arguments in favor of backdooring encryption are not working very well.

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Comments on “Surprise: Pro-Surveillance WSJ Editorial Board Sides With Apple Over FBI”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Considering that this pits a company against a more powerful force I thus believe that Apple is approaching the issue all wrong.

What if Apple made their phone accessible to all, no encryption at. That Apple,without the Apple name, then set up several companies to provide such located in places each in a place unfriendly to at least one of the following: US, UK, China, Russia et. That would give the consumer the ability to install the encrustation of their choice would be of most benefit to them against the government they most feared. As far as Apple is concerned the phone is completely and fully open thus it is not an Apple problem.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That makes no sense for several reasons.

First of all, reality: Most general consumers don’t know what the hell encryption is, why its useful or how to obtain/install/configure the app. Removing the protection that’s been invisibly forced upon them so that they can install something else will simply lead to a high number of unprotected devices. That’s why so much FUD is being spread around on this issue – people don’t know what the actual issue is because they don’t understand encryption and digital security.

Secondly, you’re essentially advocating that Apple runs a number of secret special operations around the world so that it can pretend it’s not responsible for protecting their devices. After they’ve already been involved in a fight to protect them, of course. Apart from the inevitable spying and espionage charges against them for the new operations, there’s no PR benefit it obviously abandoning all security principles.

Thirdly, if Apple did remove all protection, especially from phones that were previously encrypted, they’d presumably open themselves up to all sorts of consequences when those phones are inevitably compromised.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This. I imagine this case is causing a LOT of ordinary people to realize (1) just how much of their lives are now carried around in their pockets, (2) that OF COURSE terrorists and the smarter class of criminals would never trust off-the-shelf hardware, which leads to (3) that these actions by the DOJ are therefore targeted at stupid, low-level crooks and -surprise!- ordinary people.

As Richelieu was purported to say: If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fort Meade

One question is why the phone wasn’t immediately shipped in a faraday bag to Fort Meade.

Via F-15 ?

Maximum speed:

High altitude: Mach 2.5+ (1,650+ mph, 2,665+ km/h)
Low altitude: Mach 1.2 (900 mph, 1,450 km/h)

Combat radius: 1,061 nmi (1,222 mi, 1,967 km) for interdiction mission
Ferry range: 3,450 mi (3,000 nmi, 5,550 km) with conformal fuel tanks and three external fuel tanks

Too bad they couldn’t use a SR-71.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Microsoft probably caved in to the Government a long time ago, after all the first thing that they did with Skype was to move the control servers into their data centres, making it possible to tap Skype calls. Pre Microsoft, it had a distributed system of control servers, making it somewhat resistant to being tapped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s even simpler than that: WSJ loves using iPhones. WSJ is full of journalists. Lately, the TLAs have had a penchant for attempting to force information out of journalists. If this precedent was set, they could root through the phones of all the journalists at the WSJ — the software would have already been written.

When an issue like this affects your own livelihood, you’re not likely to come out advocating that your own rights be trampled.

Steve R. (profile) says:

It's Security versus Security

The media pundits keep projecting to the people the faulty mantra of security for this nation versus the privacy of individuals. The obvious reason, give-up on some privacy to be secure. That is a false mantra that must to be aggressively refuted.

The “correct” viewpoint is that society needs unbreakable encryption for its security to conduct legitimate business. One simple example, conducting on-line business with a credit card. The benefits of encryption for the public appear to be purposely dismissed out-of-hand.

So if you happen to hear of this debate as being an issue of national security versus individual privacy, refute it. This issue is about your personal security as also being part of national security that needs to be protected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not surprising in the least. Again, they are only pushing what the Feds and Apple want: for you to trust the medium enough to loosen up and actually communicate something surveillance worthy ON it (you know, like you did before Snowden made you rightfully wary of it). That way, the under-the-table off-the-books data sharing arrangement Apple has had with the feds for years will be more “fruitful”. BTW, I couldn’t give less of a shit about you not believing that. I’ve done my part – it’s up to you to accept the truth.

Median Wilfred says:

I'm puzzled by this

It’s pretty clear that a “mandatory back door” or some kind of mandatory weakened encryption will pretty much kill free/open source software. If open source software exists, particularly open source operating systems, then it’s pretty easy to compile without the encryption or mandatory back door. So, once we as a society have mandated back doors or key escrow encryption or what have you, then wave good bye to Linux, FreeBSD, Plan 9, Minix, Apache, and a lot of other things.

A world without free/open source software would be much, much better for Apple and Microsoft, which would be better for the WSJ, and indeed, business in general. No more uppity IT departments, as everything would progress by a sort of informal cartel, Microsoft asking businesses what they want, and businesses never firing anyone for not buying Microsoft. IT departments would end up sapped of all energy and importance, every IT person would be plug-compatible with every other IT person. All “real programmers” would end up working in a licensed and inspected shop, like Microsoft, or CA or Apple. Very few independent programmers would exist, hardware cycles would slow way down. No more “disruptive” tech (at least on purpose) coming out of nowhere. That’s an ideal situation for regulators, businesses (both producers and consumers of computers and software), and the NSA and FBI.

All told, it really is surprising the WSJ came out this way. Weird.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm puzzled by this

When you are dealing with an anarchistic development and distribution system, just how do you stop encryption being developed and distributed?
They failed to stop the use of strong encryption during the first crypto wars, what makes you think that they will succeed this time?

Matt Effect (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm puzzled by this

How can you tell there is no back door now?

This ‘public’ disagreement is very puzzling because both stand to lose most because it is public. Have things changed that much that it’s become ever so public because it is to the public interest?

What if you wanted to convince everyone that Apple phones were not accessible to governmental snooping. How would you do that?!

Anonymous Coward says:

Related: CDCal Experts Amicus Brief

Brief of Amici Curie iPhone Security and Applied Cryptography Experts In Support of Apple’s Inc.’s Motion To Vacate Order Compelling Apple Inc. To Assist Agents In Search, and Opposition To Government’s Motion To Compel Assistance”

(H/T “Top iPhone Hackers Ask Court to Protect Apple From the FBI”, by Andy Greenberg, Wired, Mar 3, 2016.)

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