This month the Obama administration sent its big guns to Silicon Valley in an effort to get the computer makers to open up back doors in their systems so that law enforcement could more easily gain access to data. Tim Cook stood out by standing up and saying the equivalent of “Hell no, privacy is a right!”, and I think we should recognize that this is a both a heroic stance to take and one we need leaders like Cook to take.
Let’s chat a bit about the incredibly stupid request that the Obama administration is making.
Would You Buy A Lock That Didn’t Work?
You see asking for a back door into a PC, tablet, or smartphone is like asking a house builder to put in monitoring cameras, or a lock maker to provide a master key, or a hotel room to record video of guests. The end result isn’t better monitoring; It is a shift of buying behavior away from the compromised vendor or service provider. If you create a hole through security that one government can see, you effectively create a hole through security that any government can see and governments aren’t particularly secure so you basically invalidate the security on the product and folks don’t want their—or particularly foreign—governments watching them, and they sure don’t want strangers watching them.
This lame-brained strategy by the Obama administration could literally kill the technology market by not only forcing foreign buyers to switch to domestic companies, but US buyers as well because one thing customers can agree on wherever they live is that they don’t want to be spied on by anyone.
Tim Cook’s Heroic Act
While none of the technology CEOs support this Obama Administration move, only Tim Cook is being shows as the guy that stood up and drew a line in the sand and effectively said, “No more”. This doesn’t come without risk, particularly because of the massive amount of monitoring law enforcement is now doing. They know who you meet with, they know the private lives of your employees and co-workers, they know who your family is and what they do when no one is watching, and they have hooks into nearly every communications service so saying “No” has risks particularly if you say it publically.
That is why what Cook did is heroic. He recognizes–perhaps better than most—that US law enforcement is capable of stepping on him hard, and yet he still stood up and took a stand because he believes (and I agree) that privacy should be a right, and losing privacy should be a punishment that requires due process. Taking away privacy en masse shouldn’t be an option at all—let alone a primary request.
Wrapping Up: It is Sad When a Government Works Against Its People
The whole concept of a back door is stupid right now, largely because law enforcement isn’t effective with the information it already gets. Recall that the Bush Administration knew of and could have stopped the attacks on 9/11, but agencies didn’t share information and even scrambling planes to stop the jets in a timely manner required someone to violate orders to do so. So, they likely couldn’t effectively use the information if they got it, yet putting in place a back door could destroy the tech industry in the US—handing it over to a country with a more business friendly government.
So I applaud Tim Cook’s actions on our behalf. Hell, I give him a standing ovation, and believe we should all stand with him. When it comes to back doors say No. Hell no! We won’t do it!
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