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Why the iPhone encryption battle matters to you

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity. 


There is no doubt, the stakes in the battle over the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone encryption are huge. You need to be involved in this fight, pick a side and then be vocal. Call your legislators, write opinion letters to your paper’s editor, or any other means necessary to inform and engage others.

Certainly the terrorist actions were horrific. Families have been forever damaged. Our way of life has been attacked. These is no denying the pain and suffering caused by this senseless act of terror. On the surface it makes perfect sense to want to force Apple to break the iPhone encryption so that authorities are able to discover other terror links and those involved with this brutal attack.

We must, however, take a step back and look at two critical components of this argument. Setting aside our emotion, lets think rationally for a moment about the long-term consequences of the government’s request of Apple. We must also acknowledge the fact that while breaking the iPhone encryption may be the easiest or fastest way to the information, it is absolutely not the only way to get that information. That distinction must be made perfectly clear.

Let’s first consider the demand for a company to build something that it does not currently possess. The basic premise of our capitalist free market system is that the government is not involved in setting product strategy, pricing, or other day-to-day activities of private enterprise. Once we open this door, where does it end?  I understand this is a matter of national security, but we cannot continue to erode the basic principles on which our republic was founded in the name of national security.  This has happened for far too long, and there must be a limit to how far America changes before we are not America any longer.

The second issue of concern is actually the one of greater importance. It is the government’s insistence on breaking into encryption. In general this is a very bad idea. Think of all the things that are protected by encryption: every “secure” internet transaction from online banking to shopping and secure email. Protection of protected health information (PHI) in your medical records is accomplished with encryption. All of your tax records with the IRS including your Social Security number, earning history and charitable contributions are encrypted for your safety and security. Bigger picture - our nuclear arsenal, military communication, stealth technology, troop movements, battle plans…yep, all encrypted.

The fact of the matter is that encryption is a core component to just about every facet of our lives today. Both our personal and work lives are dependent on the bedrock of security that is found through the use of encryption.  Creating a backdoor or methodology to undermine the security of encryption could be devastating.  If you couldn’t trust the “SSL” used to do online purchasing, would you?  If people stopped buying online, how would that affect our economy?

The notion that the government is willing to let Apple keep this technology after they create it is absurd. Something this valuable wouldn’t be kept a secret for long. All the money the U.S. government has spent to protect military secrets has failed. China has built a stealth fighter jet based on stolen US technology. Who can honestly say this technology wouldn’t be even more valuable?

For those of you thinking I haven’t considered the other side of this argument, you are wrong. I was on Capitol Hill last year speaking with a Senate staffer working on national security issues for the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He asked, “If your child was kidnapped and the only way to find him was through a backdoor to the encryption on the kidnapper’s iPhone, would you then be in favor of a backdoor?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “No.”  I come from a long line of veterans who served during WWII, Vietnam and Iraq. One thing I know is that sometimes the sacrifices of a few must be made to protect the many.

While not having immediate access to encrypted criminal or terrorist information may have direct consequences, think of the bigger picture and the long-term consequences of a world where encryption cannot be trusted.  That’s not a world I think any of us want to experience.

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz Blog

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com


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