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ECommerceTimes.com

Battle Lines Sharpen in Apple-FBI Encryption Fight

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 22, 2016 11:20 AM PT
apple-fbi-encryption-iphone-san-bernardino-terrorist-attack

In the days following the court order directing Apple to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone associated with the San Bernardino terrorists, supporters have lined up behind both sides.

A federal magistrate last week ordered Apple to create software that would let authorities access data in an iPhone used by the shooters in the attack last year. Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an open letter in defense of the company's resistance to the court order.

Analysis of online news and blogs about Cook's letter shows little change in public views, according to Chris Orris, account executive at Oxygen PR.

He ran analytics on news stories that contain the words "Apple" or "Tim Cook" and also words related to the iPhone decryption issue such as "Bernardino," "FBI" and "backdoor."

"Sentiment is the general positivity or negativity of the language used in the text. So since the start of the month, the average has been 56 percent positive, 18 percent negative and 26 percent neutral. Since the FBI made its decision on Tuesday, it has averaged 52 percent positive, 19 percent negative and 30 percent neutral," Orris said.

Measuring Sentiment

Analytics gauges the sentiment factor by measuring the balance of positive versus negative words and phrases in an article, he told the E-Commerce Times. Since the process is automated, however, it is not measuring whether the positive or negative phrases are directed at Apple or the FBI.

"Generally you're measuring if the author is happy or not," Orris said.

A chart shows that positive sentiment shrank considerably on the day of the court order. It got much better the next day when Apple put out its letter.

Legal Issues

"Libertarians and technologists find themselves supporting Apple, while law enforcement and those sympathetic to the safety over privacy movement are sympathetic to the FBI's position," said Eric Crusius, a privacy attorney at Miles & Stockbridge.

Public sentiment has meshed closely with legal reality, he told the E-Commerce Times.

From a legal standpoint, the FBI's position is potentially difficult to support, Crusius maintained. A court is ordering a nonparty private citizen to do something without a finding that the court has jurisdiction over that party, and there hasn't been any accounting for Apple's rights in the matter.

However, for those lining up behind Apple, there is the potential of appearing sympathetic to the terrorists, he cautioned.

"So long as Apple and its supporters can distinguish the legal issue from that, Apple should wield greater influence in public opinion and over the political establishment," Crusius said.

Libertarian Leanings

Silicon Valley is able to communicate directly with the public via the social media channels it invented, giving it an advantage in winning the hearts of the public concerning privacy in the absence of abject fear of terrorism, said Guy Smith, chief marketing strategy consultant at Silicon Strategies Marketing.

"Silicon Valley has undeniable libertarian leanings. Privacy is a fundamental aspect of both local and tech corporate culture," he told TechNewsWorld.

"Techies will gain public support, but the feds will win in the end," Smith predicted.

Vantage Points

What side of the issue people come down on depends on how they view the problem. Those who see it as an issue with one phone, one case, are going to side with the FBI, noted Jason L. Bauman, SEO associate at Trinity Insight-Philadelphia.

"But if you're like myself and other tech enthusiasts, you see this as an issue of precedent, and you're much more likely to side with Apple. In most cases, the more you know about encryption, the more likely you are to side with Apple as well," he told TechNewsWorld.

The issue also sets an international precedent, Bauman noted. Apple, Google and others already are fighting for data privacy in Russia, China , the EU and other areas.

"If they bow to the FBI, they must bow to other countries. And even if you're OK with the U.S. government having access to your private data, are you OK with Russia having the same? China?" he asked.

Taking Sides

Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013 about the National Security Agency's data collection practices have colored the debate, according to Ebba Blitz, CEO of Alertsec.

"Society has been polarized by the Snowden revelation, and the discussion is spinning around liberty versus security," she told TechNewsWorld.

"The goal with encryption is to protect us from hackers and cybercriminals. By weakening security, we put ourselves at risk," Blitz said.

The risk worsens when the bad guys find strong encryption elsewhere and go dark. Weaker encryption creates vulnerabilities for the good guys and capabilities for the bad guys, she said.

Public Voice

Cook issued a battle cry that thrust the conversation into the public realm. By going public, Apple appealed to its legions of supporters and other technology companies, noted Miles & Stockbridge's Crusius.

"Federal judges are not immune to public opinion. In the end, they are mere mortals like the rest of us, and Apple's actions may help influence the outcome even if they have to take the issue on appeal," he said.

The more discussion that occurs, the more support will continue around Apple's no-tamper stand, noted Trinity Insight-Philadelphia's Bauman. Siding with the FBI would create a precedent against constitutional privacy guarantees.

Industry thought leaders need to steer the public discussion, noted Vanita Pandey, vice president of product marketing at ThreatMetrix.

"To be an active participant in this debate, one needs to have a deep level of understanding of both sides. The average public is not as aware as they need to be on the longstanding impact of both decisions," she told TechNewsWorld.

Ultimate Scare

Ultimately, the FBI may have the NSA to thank for the current public outcry, said Dovell Bonnett, CEO of Access Smart.

In 1993, the NSA tried to get computer and telephone manufacturers to install the Clipper chip in all their motherboards. The chip would have given the NSA a backdoor into everyone's electronic devices without any search orders, he told TechNewsWorld.

The privacy community killed the Clipper Chip proposal in 1996. One result was the release of Pretty Good Privacy software, which allowed consumers to add high-power encryption to their data. That started the trend of making stronger encryption products available to everyone.

"So in a roundabout way, NSA caused the problem the FBI is having today with the inability to decrypt data," Bonnett said. "So if Apple opens this up, the security/privacy community will develop a solution that will block both Apple and FBI, thus making it even harder for future issues."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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