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billyblornton said:Who thinks Tim Cook doesn't have a back door to view all of your personal information?
I want to expand on an issue that chasm discussed in his comments above.
I have supported Apple’s stance on this issue from the very beginning, and I continue to support Apple. My support is based on the idea that we should never be comfortable with the government’s routine intrusion into our private lives, and on more pragmatic business-related concerns of setting such a precedent. We have to fight such requests in order to find the right solution.
But now the comments from some folks are beginning to worry me. I’m worried because I’m seeing arguments that are based on the notion that an absolutist position is justified in this situation. Extreme positions bother me because the background influence of our passions, biases, and self-interest means that we humans aren’t as smart as we think we are. So I think it’s a good idea to question this notion that an absolutist position is justified.
Access to encrypted data is unlike most other issues that involve the intersection between our rights as individuals and the government’s desire to be intrusive. With most issues of this type there’s usually an option to change our attitude, reverse our policies, or modify our laws based on experience over time. But no legislation can give us access to information that’s protected by strong encryption and certain password handling procedures. What if that situation occurred in the setting of something that absolutists believe is impossible? What if that situation occurred in a situation that has noting in common with issues like crime or terrorism? What if we’re completely unable to gain access to information regarding an existential threat?
Terrorism is unlikely to be an existential threat in the near future. The loss of several thousand lives is tragic, but it’s obviously not a threat to our very existence as a complex society. So I think that preserving our right to privacy is so fundamental that it may be an acceptable trade-off if thousands of people lose their lives in a terrorist attack, and preventing the attack wasn’t possible because of the inability to gain access to to encrypted data
In contrast, the loss of hundreds of millions of lives and catastrophic infrastructure damage doesn’t seem to be an acceptable outcome to protect the rights of any individual or group.
From a big picture perspective, the terrorism scenario is close to an extreme because it isn’t a convincing reason for the government to trample over our right to privacy. However, it is far more likely than the other extreme scenario of an existential threat (unrelated to criminal or terrorist activity) that causes massive devastation. Most people would consider protection from such a scenario to be a justification for a privacy intrusion by the government, but I’m not suggesting that we will ever have to face such a scenario. My point in setting those 2 extremes is that reasonable people should be able to see that the cut-off point for what is acceptable intrusion by a government may involve threats somewhere on that spectrum, and has to be based on a variety of factors. The challenge is that absolutism about data encryption today limits the option to consider those factors in the future, if being locked out of a data source renders discussion entirely useless.
It’s clear that most of us, myself included, are highly suspicious of the motivations of our government. But is the human activity of government inherently abusive or evil? The well-documented examples of wide-spread corruption and the abuse of power by units of governments (including our own NSA) or individuals within a government are manifestations of human nature. That’s obviously why we need checks on the power of the government. But let’s not forget that one of the most important roles of a government is to protect us from each other and from threats that no individual or group can resist.
An absolutist position that restricts the government means that we will prevent both governmental abuse of citizens and the ability of the government to protect us from a wide range of threats. So unless we use our brains to restrain our natural tendencies we will probably fail to see the unintended but harmful consequences of insisting on binary options for solving societal problems of this unique type.
Do I take an absolutist position about what I wrote? No I don’t. This is my perspective based on what I know or believe as of right now. I’m willing to alter my opinion in the face of logical arguments and/or supporting data. All I’m saying is that we should take Tim Cook’s lead and make this type of government intrusion very difficult, but not impossible. That means being willing to set aside our impulse to consider our privacy to be so precious that nothing else is worth considering. We should think about all meanings of the words “safety” and “security”.