ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Most of us have been thinking about Apple’s dispute with the FBI over encryption of smart phones all wrong, according to some computer scientists I interviewed Tuesday. If we understood what was at stake we’d probably agree that Apple is doing the right thing, they said.
Other people I spoke with think that improved personal safety is worth some risk to personal privacy.
The FBI asked for Apple’s help accessing data on an iPhone owned by one of the terrorists who killed 14 people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, Calif., last December. The FBI’s problem was that after enough failed attempts to enter a pass code into the phone, all of the data on it would be automatically erased. At a minimum, the FBI wanted a way to protect the data from erasure while it entered randomly selected passwords into the phone.
Apple refused to help, so the FBI went to court trying to compel Apple to help under the All Writs Act. In the meantime, the FBI hired an unidentified person or persons who accessed the data. FBI Director James Comey implied in a speech the agency paid more than $1 million for the service.