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“Terrorists And Their Privacy”: Do Tech Company Profits Trump National Security?

One inevitable sequel to a terrorist attack is seeing the ugly mugs of creeps-turned-monsters thrust before us over a multitude of news cycles. Another is a debate over cellphone encryption.

Encryption is a means of turning information into secret code. Terrorists communicate through encrypted devices to hide their plans and protect the identities of their co-conspirators. For obvious reasons, law enforcement wants to know what’s being said and to whom.

The FBI had been demanding that Apple turn over an encryption key to crack the iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple has refused, arguing that helping the FBI hack Farook’s iPhone would put the privacy of other iPhone users in jeopardy. That would be bad for business.

Apple’s case has always been morally and legally flawed, but now it may be moot. That’s because on the very day of the terrorist outrage in Brussels, the Justice Department announced it may now be able to get at the information in Farook’s iPhone without Apple’s input.

An unidentified third party has reportedly found a way to hack the phone. That method is being tested to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the valuable data in the process.

If it succeeds, Apple will have lost in three ways. No. 1: Consumers are no longer assured that iPhone data is invulnerable. No. 2: By forcing others to find a means of cracking an iPhone, Apple loses control over the process. And No. 3: Apple is left with having fought the bad fight.

All that goodwill Apple has amassed for its wonderful products could start draining away as Americans wonder what side it’s on. The rampage in San Bernardino took 14 lives and grievously injured 22 others. Survivors and relatives of the dead have protested Apple’s defense of a mass murderer’s cellphone data. That’s definitely bad for business.

Suppose Belgian investigators cleaning up the body parts came across an encrypted iPhone of a terrorist impressed by Apple’s promise of privacy. Would Apple refuse to help uncover accomplices in that bloodbath, as well?

Some argue that Farook’s iPhone 5c is easier to crack than the newer iPhones. Does Apple now want to bet that hacking the iPhone 6 or a later model can’t be done by a highly talented geek?

The Justice Department’s legal basis for requiring Apple to unlock an encrypted device is the 1789 All Writs Act. The law applies only if compliance is not an unreasonable burden. Apple claims invading Farook’s iPhone would be “unreasonably burdensome.”

With a search warrant based on probable cause, law enforcement may barge into your home, break into your metal file cabinets and look in your underwear drawer. (For further information, consult some “Law & Order” reruns.)

One’s cellphone is not a sacred space. Mobile phone users worried that police doing a warranted search might come across their third-grader’s math scores or a prescription for Viagra should not put such data onto their gadget in the first place.

The concern in Apple’s boardroom and elsewhere in the Silicon Valley is that governments less constrained by civil liberties than ours would demand the key to breaking the encryption. They already do, but that’s between the companies and the other countries. It’s really not the American public’s problem — unless you want to argue that tech company profits trump national security.

Apple’s position was insupportable. Now it may be irrelevant. A wise move for those in the tech industry would be to quietly work out some accommodation with law enforcement in the halls of Congress. Rest assured, they won’t want to hold such discussions in the heat of another, even more devastating terrorist attack.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Apple, Cell Phone Encryption, National Security, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Changing The Electoral Dynamic”: The Unexpected Political Impact Of Terrorist Violence

Early this morning, as many Americans were just learning about this morning’s deadly terrorist violence in Brussels, Politico’s Blake Hounshell noted on Twitter, “America may be one major terrorist attack away from Donald Trump as president.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes responded soon after that it’s a scenario that keeps him up at night.

This line of thought is not at all uncommon: in a general election, Trump, burdened by broad unpopularity, would start the race as an underdog, but many analyses have concluded that he could win the presidency anyway if voters are sufficiently terrified. It feeds into a conventional wisdom that suggest Republicans benefit politically in the wake of terrorism, and Trump specifically benefits even more.

But the conventional wisdom may not be entirely correct. Yes, Trump has seen a boost in GOP support after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but extrapolating to a national audience is a different story. I’m reminded of this Washington Post/ABC News poll we discussed around Thanksgiving – after the Paris attacks and when Americans were increasingly panicked about refugees.

A crescendo of tough talk on Syrian refugees and terrorism seems to be elevating the toughest talkers in the GOP primary – most notably Donald Trump. But among the broader American public, the most trusted person to handle the issue is Hillary Clinton. […]

By 50 percent to 42 percent, more Americans say they trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump, who leads the Republican field and responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by calling for heightened surveillance of mosques and redoubling his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.

Clinton’s eight-point advantage over Trump wasn’t unique: the same poll showed the Democratic frontrunner also leading the other GOP contenders when respondents were asked, “Who would you trust more to handle the threat of terrorism?”

It’s not the only data available on this. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted this morning, “A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that only 30 percent of Americans think Trump is ‘ready to be Commander in Chief,’ while 60 percent say he isn’t. For Hillary Clinton, those numbers are 46-45.”

As we discussed several months ago, Democrats may be at a perceived disadvantage on matters related to national security generally, but Clinton, if she’s the Democratic nominee, will have more foreign-policy experience than any other presidential candidate in a generation. All of the remaining Republican candidates are either literal or practical amateurs on international affairs.

If the question is one of preparedness, it’s a test the former Secretary of State passes easily.

All of this matters, of course, because of the degree to which it challenges preconceived ideas about which issues benefit which parties. Republicans widely believe they benefit most when elections focus on the issues where they’re strongest: national security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism, etc. Just so long as voters overlook their discredited ideas and track record of foreign-policy failure – and in Trump’s case, the fact that he’s painfully clueless – GOP officials are certain they’re on firmer ground when voters’ attention moves away from the economy, health care, education, and the environment.

But there’s some evidence that suggests Clinton’s resume is unique, and with her background comes an ability to speak with authority on an issue Republicans claim as their own. It changes the electoral dynamic in ways the political world may not have fully digested yet.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, National Security, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stance Not Grounded In Principle”: Apple Unlocked iPhones For The Feds 70 Times Before

Apple CEO Tim Cook declared on Wednesday that his company wouldn’t comply with a government search warrant to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers, a significant escalation in a long-running debate between technology companies and the government over access to people’s electronically-stored private information.

But in a similar case in New York last year, Apple acknowledged that it could extract such data if it wanted to. And according to prosecutors in that case, Apple has unlocked phones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008. (Apple doesn’t dispute this figure.)

In other words, Apple’s stance in the San Bernardino case may not be quite the principled defense that Cook claims it is. In fact, it may have as much to do with public relations as it does with warding off what Cook called “an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”

For its part, the government’s public position isn’t clear cut, either. U.S. officials insist that they cannot get past a security feature on the shooter’s iPhone that locks out anyone who doesn’t know its unique password—which even Apple doesn’t have. But in that New York case, a government attorney acknowledged that one U.S. law enforcement agency has already developed the technology to crack at least some iPhones, without the assistance from Apple that officials are demanding now.

The facts in the New York case, which involve a self-confessed methamphetamine dealer and not a notorious terrorist, tend to undermine some of the core claims being made by both Apple and the government in a dispute with profound implications for privacy and criminal investigations beyond the San Bernardino case.

In New York, as in California, Apple is refusing to bypass the passcode feature now found on many iPhones.

But in a legal brief, Apple acknowledged that the phone in the meth case was running version 7 of the iPhone operating system, which means the company can access it. “For these devices, Apple has the technical ability to extract certain categories of unencrypted data from a passcode locked iOS device,” the company said in a court brief.

Whether the extraction would be successful depended on whether the phone was “in good working order,” Apple said, noting that the company hadn’t inspected the phone yet. But as a general matter, yes, Apple could crack the iPhone for the government. And, two technical experts told The Daily Beast, the company could do so with the phone used by deceased San Bernardino shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, a model 5C. It was running version 9 of the operating system.

Still, Apple argued in the New York case, it shouldn’t have to, because “forcing Apple to extract data… absent clear legal authority to do so, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand,” the company said, putting forth an argument that didn’t explain why it was willing to comply with court orders in other cases.

“This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue,” Apple said.

Apple’s argument in New York struck one former NSA lawyer as a telling admission: that its business reputation is now an essential factor in deciding whether to hand over customer information.

“I think Apple did itself a huge disservice,” Susan Hennessey, who was an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the NSA, told The Daily Beast. The company acknowledged that it had the technical capacity to unlock the phone, but “objected anyway on reputational grounds,” Hennessey said. Its arguments were at odds with each other, especially in light of Apple’s previous compliance with so many court orders.

It wasn’t until after the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that Apple began to position itself so forcefully as a guardian of privacy protection in the face of a vast government surveillance apparatus. Perhaps Apple was taken aback by the scale of NSA spying that Snowden revealed. Or perhaps it was embarassed by its own role in it. The company, since 2012, had been providing its customers’ information to the FBI and the NSA via the PRISM program, which operated pursuant to court orders.

Apple has also argued, then and now, that the government is overstepping the authority of the All Writs Act, an 18th-century statute that it claims forces Apple to conduct court-ordered iPhone searches. That’s where the “clear legal authority” question comes into play.

But that, too, is a subjective question which will have to be decided by higher courts. For now, Apple is resisting the government on multiple grounds, and putting its reputation as a bastion of consumer protection front and center in the fight.

None of this has stopped the government from trying to crack the iPhone, a fact that emerged unexpectedly in the New York case. In a brief exchange with attorneys during a hearing in October, Judge James Orenstein said he’d found testimony in another case that the Homeland Security Department “is in possession of technology that would allow its forensic technicians to override the pass codes security feature on the subject iPhone and obtain the data contained therein.”

That revelation, which went unreported in the press at the time, seemed to undercut the government’s central argument that it needed Apple to unlock a protected iPhone.

“Even if [Homeland Security] agents did not have the defendant’s pass code, they would nevertheless have been able to obtain the records stored in the subject iPhone using specialized software,” the judge said. “Once the device is unlocked, all records in it can be accessed and copied.”

A government attorney affirmed that he was aware of the tool. However, it applied only to one update of version 8 of the iPhone operating system—specifically, 8.1.2. The government couldn’t unlock all iPhones, but just phones with that software running.

Still, it made the judge question whether other government agencies weren’t also trying to break the iPhone’s supposedly unbreakable protections. And if so, why should he order the company to help?

There was, the judge told the government lawyer, “the possibility that on the intel side, the government has this capability. I would be surprised if you would say it in open court one way or the other.”

Orenstein was referring to the intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, which develop tools and techniques to hack popular operating systems, and have been particularly interested for years in trying to get into Apple products, according to documents leaked by Snowden.

There was no further explanation of how Homeland Security developed the tool, and whether it was widely used. A department spokesperson declined to comment “on specific law enforcement techniques.” But the case had nevertheless demonstrated that, at least in some cases, the government can, and has, managed to get around the very wall that it now claims impedes lawful criminal investigations.

The showdown between Apple and the FBI will almost certainly not be settled soon. The company is expected to file new legal briefs within days. And the question of whether the All Writs Act applies in such cases is destined for an appeals court decision, legal experts have said.

But for the moment, it appears that the only thing certainly standing in the way of Apple complying with the government is its decision not to. And for its part, the government must be presumed to be searching for new ways to get the information it wants.

Technically, Apple probably can find a way to extract the information that the government wants from the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Daily Beast.

“The question is, does the law give the government the ability to force Apple to create new code?” he said. “Engineers have to sit down and create something that doesn’t exist” in order to meet the government’s demands. Soghoian noted that this would only be possible in the San Bernardino case because the shooter was using an iPhone model 5C, and that newer hardware versions would be much harder for Apple to bypass.

But even that’s in dispute, according to another expert’s analysis. Dan Guido, a self-described hacker and CEO of the cybersecurity company Trail of Bits, said that Apple can, in fact, eliminate the protections that keep law enforcement authorities from trying to break into the iPhone with a so-called brute force attack, using a computer to make millions of password guesses in a short period of time. New iPhones have a feature that stops users from making repeated incorrect guesses and can trigger a kind of self-destruct mechanism, erasing all the phone’s contents, after too many failed attempts.

In a detailed blog post, Guido described how Apple could work around its own protections and effectively disarm the security protections. It wouldn’t be trivial. But it’s feasible, he said, even for the newest versions of the iPhone, which, unlike the ones in the New York and San Bernardino cases, Apple swears it cannot crack.

“The burden placed on Apple will be greater… but it will not be impossible,” Guido told The Daily Beast.

 

By: Shane Harris, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2016

February 20, 2016 Posted by | Apple, Tim Cook, U. S. Government | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plight Of Syrian Refugees Recalls Tale Of 2,000 Years Ago”: Bar The Gates, Exclude The Stranger, Ignore The Vulnerable

There is irony aplenty in this season, which is celebrated throughout Christendom because of the tale of a babe born in a troubled precinct in the Middle East a little more than 2,000 years ago. You know the story: A couple of modest means finds no accommodations, even as the woman is on the brink of giving birth. After the child is born, they are forced to flee the depredations of a murderous king.

As history rolls on, we find the Middle East once again in upheaval, roiled by murderous tyrants who have spurred families to seek sanctuary. Given the time of year, you’d think the plight of those families would be the preoccupation of the news cycle; you’d think accommodating them would be the pre-eminent call of preachers and politicians alike. After all, the ancient tale has been said to inspire reflection, charity and generosity.

But those sentiments seem in scant supply in these United States. Instead, we are awash in suspicion, waylaid by fear and anxiety, beset by bigotry. Many of the nation’s political leaders have insisted that we bar the gates, exclude the stranger, ignore the vulnerable.

While President Obama has called on the nation to take in more refugees from Syria — where the armies of President Bashar Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State represent dire threats to life and limb — 27 U.S. governors, more than half, would attempt to bar Syrian refugees from their states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously said that he wouldn’t even take in orphans under the age of 5.

Indeed, the call to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States has captured a substantial number of voters; 56 percent oppose President Obama’s policy. And that refusal finds support across party lines: Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News survey.

The proximate cause of that hunker-down insularity is the threat of terrorist attacks, a danger brought home by the San Bernardino atrocity earlier this month, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured. But humans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. While 45 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 (counting the Fort Hood shooting), far more have been killed since then in automobile accidents and non-terrorist-related gun violence.

Besides, as the brilliant novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has written: “Contemporary America is full of fear. (But) fear is not a Christian habit of mind. … Those who forget God can be recognized in the fact that they make irrational responses to irrational fears. … There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.”

Terror is not everywhere, and its risks would not increase if we were to admit substantially more Syrian refugees. They are subjected to a vetting process that takes up to two years. Anyway, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who allegedly carried out the San Bernardino attack, had no ties to Syria that authorities have detected.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been displaced by war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey has taken in 1.9 million, while Iraq, which is still beset by armed conflict, has taken in 250,000. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan.

The far wealthier European nations are still wrangling over the numbers they will accept, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been steadfast in her welcoming tone; her country has taken in more than 98,000 Syrians and stands ready to accept as many as 500,000 refugees, including Syrians, per year for several years.

With that in mind, President Obama’s call for the United States to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year seems modest. And while providing sanctuary to some of the planet’s most vulnerable populations may not promote peace on Earth, it is certainly a small gesture of goodwill to all men.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 26, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Fearmongering, Jesus, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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