Apple CEO Tim Cook has released a lengthy document explaining why the company is refusing to cooperate with the FBI as ordered by a California federal judge last week. In addition, Cook has released a series of statements explaining the same thing.
The FBI, meanwhile, has released a series of statements explaining that the agency isn’t actually asking for all of the security compromises that Apple says it wants. FBI director James Comey posted a blog entry saying that he doesn’t want master keys, encryption keys or anything like that.
Notably, Comey also suggests that maybe a little communication could go a long way. “Reflecting the context of this heart-breaking case,” Comey wrote in the blog, “I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other.”
Comey noted that the new technology being brought to light by this case also creates a tension between privacy and safety. “That tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living. It also should not be resolved by the FBI, which investigates for a living. It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before.”
For its part, Apple is finally admitting that it’s possible for the company to create the tools necessary to provide access to the iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, who killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a mass shooting at a county government building in San Bernardino, Calif. The cell phone involved actually belongs to the county government, not Farook.
So now, instead of saying that it can’t help the government uncover any information contained on the phone, Apple is saying it won’t. And that’s a very big difference.
In what Cook calls his letters to Apple’s customers, and in the FAQ that he released Monday to formally state the company’s position, he repeatedly claims that nothing about Apple’s stance is related to the company’s future marketing efforts. But his own words seem to belie that position. Instead, Cook is saying that he’s doing this for his customers, but it’s those customers that Cook plans to sell iPhones to again.
In addition, Apple is tossing around assertions that that the government is asking for things that don’t appear in the court order or in the FBI’s subsequent motion. The government has made it clear and the court order confirms that the FBI isn’t asking for a backdoor to iOS. Likewise, there’s no request for a whole new rewrite of iOS. While Cook makes these claims, that’s really all they are—claims.
Apple, FBI Amp Up the Rhetoric Over Mass Killer’s Locked iPhone
What Cook is doing is using a tactic I see frequently here in Washington when a politician wants to gain support for a position that some might see as untenable. When that happens, they make claims about assertions by the other side of the argument that may have little connection with reality. But what these politicians know is that if you assert something to be true long enough and forcefully enough, people will start to believe it.
This tactic has been around for decades. During another period in history, its advocates called it “The big lie.”
What’s unfortunate is that Apple is putting itself into a losing situation. If the company really does manage to appeal the court order to the Supreme Court and then loses, which is likely, Cook is going to look like an idiot and in the process he will have deeply embarrassed a company that until now has had a sterling reputation.
Cook’s assertions sound like the company is grasping at straws. For example, consider Cook’s derision of the All Writs Act, which was passed 230 years ago. But just because the law goes back to the first days of the Republic doesn’t make it irrelevant. What the All Writs Act actually does is simply allow courts to issue orders with the legal standing to be obeyed. It’s one of the laws that form the basis for government in the United States.
In an earlier column, I suggested that there should be some middle ground in which Apple can give the FBI the information it needs to complete an investigation that might uncover or rule out the existence of co-conspirators or future threats. It’s clear from the motion by the Department of Justice that the government is indeed seeking a middle ground, but it’s equally clear that Apple doesn’t want that.
Instead, Apple seems to be staking its reputation on an ill-advised line in the sand. Tim Cook is saying that he won’t cross that line and that the court can’t make him. But the fact is that the court can indeed make him cross that line, and Cook is well enough educated that he knows this.
That means that the real question is why Cook is taking such a no-compromise stand. It seems to me that the only rational explanation is that he wants to be able to tell future customers that he tried really hard to stand up against the feds, but couldn’t. It is, in other words, a marketing ploy, complete with the cynical big lie approach to marketing.