Sunday, February 21, 2016

Feinstein is wrong, wrong, wrong

I've touched on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's history, reputation and predilections before. She is highly sympathetic to law enforcement and holds scant regard for the niceties of civil liberties and privacy, ironic in light of her membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law (per Wikipedia). As I wrote two and a half years ago, she has "a troubling yen for order at any price".

So it is no surprise that, per SFGate, Feinstein's take on the clash between the F.B.I. and Apple is, "Apple is not above the laws of the United States."

I have absolutely no use for Feinstein, and I haven't had any use for her since she provided political cover for George W. Bush's worst extrajudicial abuses. She is, like the late and similarly benighted Antonin Scalia, hopelessly lost in her own fossilized mind.

Feinstein parrots the F.B.I.'s argument that there could be crucial information on the San Bernardino murderer's iPhone that might lead to other conspirators. This is a weak argument, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf explains:

The killers deliberately destroyed other devices but didn’t bother destroying this one. It was a work phone issued by San Bernardino County. Until some time prior to the killings it was backing up to iCloud, and the FBI was able to get those backups.

So once again, law enforcement personnel got information about some of what was on the phone. They’re missing a mere fraction of its contents. And one would guess that in the time between the last iCloud backup and the terrorist attack, Syed Farook did not suddenly start updating his work iPhone’s contacts with the addresses of his terrorist buddies, but refrained from calling or texting them (which the phone company could tell the FBI).

To Feinstein's implied claim that Apple is holding itself above the law: it is not "holding oneself above the law" to file an appeal of a judicial order one considers unjust. And the order to Apple, to facilitate the F.B.I.'s decryption efforts, is manifestly unjust.

What the F.B.I. demands is not so much a tool — though it does demand that — as a legal precedent. If Apple is forced to comply with this order, it will be compelled to comply with similar future orders — not just from the U.S. government, but from governments all over the world. The precedent will have been set and most of the requisite technical work will have been done.

The mere fact that the F.B.I. has made this demand, incidentally, could embolden other nations' security agencies to make similar demands of Apple, whether or not this particular order is finally upheld. And unlike the U.S., the other nations' agencies may have the power to end legal sales of Apple products in their countries. Apple's place in the market may be at significant risk.

But you don't have to care whether Apple survives in the marketplace to be concerned about this issue. The fact is that if attitudes like Feinstein's carry the day, we can kiss our privacy goodbye. What will we get in exchange? The ability to look at the data of criminals who use these devices to store that data but don't destroy them before the police catch up. Oh, and along the way, we'll have given the police the legal and technical power to invade our privacy pretty much at will. All they will have to do is to claim you're a criminal and might incriminate other criminals in your device's encrypted data, and a warrant will appear like magic.

Will it result in a measurably safer environment for the rest of us? Of course not.

Is that a fair price to pay for a little (if any) greater security? I say no. In fact, I say hell, no.

And so I also say, "Dianne, I'm tired of your pious posturing on national security. You pretend you're concerned for people's safety but you just want to create a police state. Go fuck yourself and your authoritarian attitude."

Feinstein is wrong, wrong, wrong on this. We must push back hard against her authoritarian, borderline tyrannical attitude.

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