Apple Gives Its Middle Finger to the NSA


I’m a little late getting started this morning, even though I actually woke up much earlier than usual. What happened is that I wrote a post; then lost it by hitting the wrong key and blowing away my browser window; then recreated it; and then decided not to publish it after all. I’m still not sure if this is because the post was genuinely ill-conceived, or because I’m just too cowardly to put it up. Questions, questions….

In any case, I’m fascinated to see this tidbit among all the boring recent Apple iPhone news (bigger screen, thinner profile, yawn):

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.

….The key is the encryption that Apple mobile devices automatically put in place when a user selects a passcode, making it difficult for anyone who lacks that passcode to access the information within, including photos, e-mails and recordings. Apple once maintained the ability to unlock some content on devices for legally binding police requests but will no longer do so for iOS 8, it said in the new privacy policy.

I’m not sure how universally this kind of technical fix can be applied elsewhere. I have a feeling that in practice, it’s probably a limited solution. But it would certainly be a bit of poetic justice if the NSA’s overreach and the government’s unwillingness to rein them in led to a sea change in private security that simply makes it impossible to respond to mass requests for customer data.

Of course, this might not be the end of things. For the time being, actual traditional governments with police forces and courts are still more powerful than even the highest of high-tech corporations. If Congress passes a law requiring Apple to maintain unlock codes, then they’ll have to do it whether they like it or not. I wonder how this is all going to play out?