I guess this isn't that
surprising, but as the big legal fight heated up this week between Apple and the Justice Department over whether or not Apple can be forced to create a backdoor to let the FBI access the contents of Syed Farook's iPhone, all of the major Presidential candidates have weighed in... and they're all wrong
. Donald Trump is getting the most attention. Starting earlier this week he kept saying that Apple should just do what the FBI wants, and then he kicked it up a notch this afternoon saying that everyone should boycott Apple
until it gives in to the FBI. Apparently, Trump doesn't even have the first clue about the actual issue at stake, in terms of what a court can compel a company to do, and what it means for our overall security.
Meanwhile, most of the other candidates didn't go as far, but tried to stupidly pretend there was some sort of compromise
between the two positions. Bernie Sanders did the "on the one hand/on the other hand/I won't actually take a stand" thing:
“I am very fearful in America about Big Brother. And that means not only the federal government getting into your emails or knowing what books you’re taking out of the library, or private corporations knowing everything there is to know about you in terms of your health records, your banking records, your consumer practices,” Sanders said.
“On the other hand, what I also worry about is the possibility of another terrorist attack against our country. And frankly, I think there is a middle ground that can be reached.”
If you think there's a "middle ground" you don't understand the issue.
Hillary Clinton did the same thing, trying to straddle the line by admitting a backdoor sounds problematic, but really, if the nerds just nerd harder, can't they figure something out:
Clinton called the situation a “difficult dilemma.” She discussed some of the main concerns Apple has “about opening the door, creating what they call a backdoor into encryption.” And she pointed out that the capability could be abused by authoritarian regimes like “the Chinese, Russian, Iranian governments” who want the same kind of access.
But she concluded with a favorite law enforcement talking point: that the smart people in America can surely solve this problem and find a way to help the FBI access encrypted communications with a little brainstorming and teamwork. “As smart as we are, there’s got to be some way on a very specific basis we could try to help get information around crimes and terrorism,”
Again, the thing that they don't get is that the "nerd problem" here is: How can you make a security vulnerability that only can be used by the good guys? That's impossible. Creating a security vulnerability opens things up to the bad guys. Period.
And, of course, neither of those answers tackle the actual
issue at stake, which is to what level the US government can force a company to hack its own customers and undermine its own systems' security. They're really answering a different question. Because either they don't understand the issue or they don't actually want to be pinned down on it.
The rest of the Republican field
basically did the same thing as Sanders and Clinton. On the one hand this, on the other that. It's classic "don't pin me down" so I don't piss off one constituency politicking. First up, Ted Cruz:
"Apple has a serious argument that they should not be forced to put a backdoor in every cellphone everyone has," said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, echoing Cook's concerns that complying with the court would create a "backdoor" into Apple's encryption that others could exploit.
But in this case, said Senator Cruz, the FBI's interests override Apple's worries about security.
"This concerns the phone of one of the San Bernardino [terrorists], and for law enforcement to get a judicial search order, that's consistent with the Fourth Amendment,” said Cruz.
He also said:
“They have a binding search order,” Ted Cruz said, referring to Apple. “I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can protect ourselves from terrorists and protect our civil rights.”
Yeah, again, that's not the issue. Yes, they have a court order. And that is
fine, if Apple had full access to the content and just needed to turn that over. Everyone agrees with that. But that's not the issue here
. It's whether or not Apple can be compelled to go much, much further, and build a way to hack their own customers, removing security features, so that the FBI can more easily access encrypted content.
How about Marco Rubio? Same on the one hand/on the other hand bullshit:
“If you create a backdoor, there is a very reasonable possibility that a criminal gang could figure out what the backdoor is," Mr. Rubio said. “We're going to have to work with the tech industry to figure out a way forward on encryption that allows us some capability to access information – especially in an emergency circumstances.”
So, we need to work together to allow some capability... that Rubio himself admits will lead to "a very real possibility that a criminal gang" will exploit. Guess what the larger risk is: a criminal gang targeting your data, or being caught in a terrorist attack? It's the former, not the latter, and yet Rubio is pretending they're the same.
Next up to bat, John Kasich. He's even worse. Not only does he not understand the issue, he doesn't even give one of those on the one hand/on the other hand answers, suggesting he doesn't even know the key part of all of this.
"I don't think it's an example of government overreach to say that, you know, we had terrorists here on our soil and we've got to understand more detail about who they may have been communicating with."
It's not an overreach for them to try to understand. But that's not the debate. The debate is if in trying to collect every possible bit of content, they have the power to commandeer a tech company and have it build tools to undermine that company's own security systems.
Ben Carson, shows his usual level of confusion, suggesting
Apple is only doing this because it doesn't trust the government and then giving another wishy-washy answer:
“I think that Apple, and probably a lot of other people, don’t necessarily trust the government these days,” Carson said. “And there’s probably very good reason for people not trust the government. But we’re going to have to get over that because right now we’re faced with tremendous threats, and individuals, radical jihadists, that want to destroy us. And we’re going to have to weigh these things, one against the other.”
“I believe that what we need is a public-private partnership when it comes to all of these technical things and cyber security because we’re all at risk in a very significant way,” Carson said. “So it’s going to be a matter of people learning to trust each other, which means Apple needs to sit down with trustworthy members of the government, and that may have to wait until the next election, I don’t know, but we’ll see.”
This response makes absolutely no sense, and is almost self-contradictory. He's basically admitting that the government might misuse such powers, and even suggests the Obama government in particular would do so. But his
government, of course, would be fine. If you're a Presidential candidate and your argument for a powerful surveillance tool is "well I don't trust the other guy to use it, but you can trust me..." you've already lost. And, of course, Carson's answer similarly misses the point altogether. The issue is not about Apple's "mistrust" of the government, but rather whether or not Apple can be compelled to undermine the safety and security of all of its customers. And yeah, "all of these technical things and cyber security." Clear as mud.
I'm not quite sure how, but it looks like Jeb Bush has managed to avoid answering a direct question on this issue, but it's not hard to guess where he'd come down. In the past he's talked about how encryption enables "evildoers"
If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job — while protecting civil liberties — to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.
And, in an earlier debate he did one of those non-answer things
where he says undermining encryption could harm business, but law enforcement is important... so leadership. Really.
Bush: If you can encrypt messages, ISIS can, over these platforms, and we have no ability to have a cooperative relationship —
Moderator: Do you ask or do you order?
Bush: Well, if the law would change, yeah. But I think there has to be recognition that if we — if we are too punitive, then you’ll go to other — other technology companies outside the United States. And what we want to do is to control this. We also want to dominate this from a commercial side. So there’s a lot of balanced interests. But the president leads in this regard. That’s what we need. We need leadership, someone who has a backbone and sticks with things, rather than just talks about them as though anything matters when you’re talking about amendments that don’t even actually are part of a bill that ever passed.
So, yeah. Basically all of the candidates are absolutely awful on this issue. That's not encouraging.