Guardian Tech Reporter: Apple Should Help FBI Break Into iPhone Because I Don't Consider Privacy All That Important

from the why-should-your-lives-be-less-of-a-voluntarily-open-book-than-mine? dept

Of all the arguments for the idea that the government should be able to force Apple to whip up a backdoor for law enforcement, the worst hasn’t come from the government. Instead, it’s been delivered by The Guardian’s San Francisco-based technology reporter, Nellie Bowles.

Bowles takes the oft-opined “nothing to hide” argument and turns it into an argument against anyone having any expectation of privacy in today’s connected world — and it’s all based on a single subjective experience: hers.

But is it really so absurd to ask Apple to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c? In this exceptional case of large-scale domestic terrorism, this is a phone built before Apple sealed off its “back door”, so how much of a precedent can it set? And beyond the specifics of today, if our lives are lived through our phones now, how can law enforcement do its job if it can’t get into them?

I’ve already given up on all pretense of privacy by putting an always listening Amazon Echo in my bedroom (good morning, Jeff Bezos), which I’m sure the NSA could tap into whenever it wanted.

Most people don’t want Bowles’ Echo-owning assumption of non-privacy applied to their lives/devices, but she’s basically arguing that if she’s cool with the government having access to all of this, everyone else should be too because, really, who even thinks privacy’s a thing anymore?

Bowles can voluntarily open her life for additional examination if she’d like, much in the way citizens can consent to warrantless searches. But just because Bowles has willingly forked over her privacy in exchange for a shiny IoT thing, it’s no basis for any rhetorical argument that encompasses anything more than Bowles and her privacy.

And there will be plenty of Techdirt points for the commenter who wrings something resembling logic or clarity out of this sentence:

So in the same way I’d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

I’ve tried approaching this from a few different angles but the best I can come up with is this:

“I’m cool. You can trust me. I’m not always about giving The Man what he wants.”

Bowles notes that people “live lives” through their phones while arguing for the general “rightness” of forcing companies to help law enforcement break into people’s “lives.” The problem — among several — is this isn’t a one-off effort to help the FBI investigate a terrorist attack. This bespoke software solution will go into routine use if the FBI’s efforts are successful — either after the FBI figures out how to do this on its own by sifting through Apple’s code or after the FBI uses this as precedent for future All Writs orders (“This one judge said it was ok…”).

It’s much larger than this case. And this is exactly the hill the FBI’s willing to die on. A mass shooting with apparent terroristic motivation is the Patient Zero it needs to make inroads in its War on Encryption. It will be happy to start with courts forcing cell phone providers to unlock devices for it. Bowles, however, thinks this is a singular case without broader implications — unsurprising, given her arguments for law enforcement access seem to begin and end with the Amazon Echo in her bedroom.

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Comments on “Guardian Tech Reporter: Apple Should Help FBI Break Into iPhone Because I Don't Consider Privacy All That Important”

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changing the laws to match experience

So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

The logic seems to be that drugs are now illegal, but their use only impacts the person taking them. If we can change the law so that drugs are now legal and are about personal responsibility we can take enough drugs that we no longer care. About anything. Including logic or other people.

Here is my attempt at...

… explaining this statement…

“So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?”

… what is and what is not legal versus “right/just”? Honestly, seen enough people try to twist whatever they can to whatever opinion they have to appear to be “the truth”, whatever the cost.


not worthy of security or privacy.

… explaining this statement…

“So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?”


I want drugs to be legal because if the FBI or any other government agency looks into the details of my life they will find that I do drugs. So you can snoop as long as what I do with my life is considered legal. That way I truly do have nothing to hide.


Question for Nellie Bowles

Just how long can you do your job if the government can grab you contact list every time you pass through an airport?

Government never ever stick with just this time, but expand the use of any means of snooping on their citizens to maximise their ability to gather data. As a reporter you are a prime target for such snooping, regardless of any constitutional protections.


Re: Question for Nellie Bowles

Forget about the government grabbing the content of your phone. If this tool gets out (as it always does), the government may actually be the least of your problems.

How about your fellow reporter reading all your notes? Or a competitor? A stalker? An identity thief?

Baby, this is not a fight between you and the government. It’s between you and everyone who wants access to your every last secret!


Somehow I think even she has limits.....

Somehow I think that even Ms Bowles has limits on just how public she’s willing to be. Sure she has an Echo in her bedroom, but I doubt she has public web cams there [or maybe she does, what do I know]. Transcripts of all her conversations, listings of all her purchases and prescriptions, her-up-to-the-minute itinerary and current GPS location are all posted in an easily accessible public place right? No? Why not, I thought she was so over that whole privacy thing.

No one can live a completely public existence. Freedom, like a flower, dies under the merciless gaze of an unblinking sun.

If people think they are being watched, if what they are doing, saying, is being recorded then they self censor. It doesn’t matter if it never actually gets seen by anyone, the thought that it might will force people to change their behaviour.

Eventually it’s all twitchy, conformist, paranoid psychosis.

Just because she’s apparently lived a comfortable, doesn’t think she has anything to worry about from the law, life so far, she’s apparently just fine with the government breaking into people’s cell phones. I say, great for her. She can turn off any encryption and not require a pass code on her phone.

The rest of us need a chance to live a life with one less reason to fear our phones…..


Re: Somehow I think even she has limits.....

If people think they are being watched, if what they are doing, saying, is being recorded then they self censor.

Not everybody acts like that, some work hard and quietly at getting round censorship. The USSR could not stop people copying and circulating paper copies of banned works.


Re: Re: Somehow I think even she has limits.....

But they could only;

“… work hard and quietly at getting round censorship…”

because there was space to do so. There were times when they weren’t being watched that made activities like that possible.

Modern technology is allowing oppressive governments, with the tools, to do things that were practically impossible before [and showing us just how oppressive supposedly enlightened governments, like the US, would like to be].

  • During the cold war it was practically impossible to track someone’s every movement for months at a time, with cell phones it’s trivial.
  • Tracking the location of every car that travels around town, impossible. Not now with automated license plate readers.
  • Putting a rural suspect’s back yard [surrounded by an 8ft fence] under 24 hour surveillance for weeks at a time, kinda difficult not to spot the guy sitting on the pole holding the camera. Now, just nail a small hard to notice web cam to the pole.

Re: Re: Re: Somehow I think even she has limits.....

You do not have to carry a cell phone at all times. You do not need to travel everywhere in your own car either. Also, there will always be wild places that are private, or even better a noisy public place. A disco dance floor is one of the best places going for having a private conversation, especially a moving around to avoid lip reading is not suspicious.


Since privacy doesn’t account for much in her book, I’d like to have her account number, password, address, and security questions and answers to her bank account. Surely this couldn’t hurt one who isn’t concerned with privacy.

Oh, and while your at it, how about adding personal phone number, home address, and SSN (provided you’re a US citizen.


Privacy not an Issue? Really?

Obviously that Guardian reporter is not a student of history. The adage that “I am not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide” is idiotic sophistry.

There are always concerns that what you do now may be perfectly legal and acceptable, currently. BUT what about the future? What if some politicos pass legislation in the future, that outlaws some behavior you have taken for granted for years and years.

And if you do not care about privacy, please share all your passwords including everything that relates to your finances, credit, sexual activities etc. etc. etc.


Re: Privacy not an Issue? Really?

As it’s been said (often attributed to Cardinal Richelieu) and all the more applicable in our current overly criminalized world:

“Qu’on me donne six lignes ?crites de la main du plus honn?te homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre.”

Or for the American English majority:

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”



I don’t understand how the T-word keeps getting associated with this case. As terrible a crime as it was, this was a simple case of mass murder. End of story. An interest by the perpetrators in other killers not withstanding, there is no evidence of any connection with any outside group.

It was only slightly less successful (by number of victims including wounded) than the University of Texas clock tower shooter in 1966, Charles Whitman, who I might remind was a Catholic white man trained to kill as a sniper by the US Marine Corp. Nobody cried “terrorism” or demanded phone taps or warrantless searches then.

Terrorism was not involved in the San Bernadino case until the FBI stepped in to “investigate”.


Who is listening?

She may not mind if Google listens in on her bedroom, but I can think of several million other people that would disagree. I am at a loss to understand how a tech reporter can have such a Pollyanna attitude. Does she leave her doors unlocked when she is gone?

There is no reason to believe that the Feds will not abuse any access they are given; they always have. Once this is created it will escape into the wild. All it takes is one bad actor and you will never get it back.

The Guardian usually has sharp people on their staff, where did they find her?


The best course of action would have been for apple to voluntarily comply instead of being compelled. That way no new legal precedent would be set, there would be no way that FBI could abuse their power (they can’t recompile the backdoor software without the code that restricts it to one device without Apple’s software signing key), and they get the evidence they need.

Of course this is impossible now and Apple has no choice but to appeal.


And there will be plenty of Techdirt points for the commenter who wrings something resembling logic or clarity out of this sentence:
So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

Because only 2 industries I’ve ever found refer to their customers as “Users”?

If anyone knows of a 3rd, I’d love to hear it.

Thane Hubbellsays:

Not a fight to pick right now

I don’t think Apple is being wise with this. I do not think this is the fight to pick with the govermnent especially about this subject at this time. I think given a valid supeona Apple should comply. They certainly CAN, it’s not technically impossible. Failure to cooperate may cause the pendulum to swing over to the area of legislation being passed to FORCE a back door that could more easily be abused. I understand and agree with Apple’s view point, but being pragmatic and thinking down the road to the future I think they need to comply.

Anonymous Howardsays:

Re: Re: Not a fight to pick right now

A lot of what Apple does annoys the shit out of me (proprietary connectors, non-expandable storage, etc), but on this one I’m behind them 100%.

Even if you don’t have any Apple products, if Apple lose then every other company will be next. Your device will be next. Apple victory is in your interest.


Logic & Clarity

“So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?”

There’s no logic to be found here, but I’ll try to provide clarity. This is rather sophisticated psychology. Look at the first clause in the sentence. With regard to just this clause, responses will break down into 4 groups.

1. People who already agree. This is a small subsection of the population, mostly hardcore social libertarians, the occasional honest fiscal conservative who recognizes that the War on Drugs has been a money pit since it’s inception, and of course serious drug users, but probably not abusers. This group reads this clause and sits up and takes notice of the rest of the sentence.

2. People who vehemently disagree. Mostly the sizable minority of Americans who still believe that the War on Drugs is the correct path. They’re not going to agree with the next clause, may even throw the paper away in a rage, but that’s okay with our columnist. One, the overlap between Guardian readers and these people is fairly small. Two, the overlap between these people and people with pathetic/non-existent security is fairly large.

3. People who don’t necessarily agree, but probably agree somewhat (i.e. people who think we should legalize marijuana) and think this is a thought-provoking statement enough to ensure their future attention. This is the only group she actually cares about.

4. People who, like most of the users of this sight are either tech savvy enough or privacy concerned enough (or both), that they were already turned off by the earlier part of the article. They’ve already decided the writer is either an idiot or complicit in the erosion of our privacy. Now, they’re just reading to find out what complete nonsense the writer will spout next.

This is called “turning the tip” in carny/circus shows and con games. It’s basically the process of figuring out who among the crowd will buy tickets/is hooked on the con, and sloughing the rest.

Each group will have one of 4 reactions to second clause.

Parts of group 1 (mostly everyone but the drug users), a small section of group 3, and all of groups 2 & 4, will disagree with the second clause because: a. it doesn’t fit with their preconceptions, b. they’re so angry they going to disagree with everything she writes or, c. like Tim, they’re too rational not to spot the logical fallacy. Those people are the slough.

The remainder of group 1 (mostly drug users), and most of group 3, will fail to spot that there’s no logical connection between the first clause and the second. They’ll read the second clause where she uses the keywords “careful” and “legal,” which most Americans and most of the Western World have come to associate with feelings of safety and security. It’s the sales/persuasion section of neuro-linguistic programming. In this case, using words we have a subconscious association for to bolster confidence in what comes next. If she achieves this confidence, these people will overlook the negative association they have for the phrase “break into” that comes after.

A minority of group 3 won’t fall for the word trap. They will just walk away feeling shaken, a little confused, and uncertain of their opinion, which will probably make it easier to convince them the next time someone presents a similar argument.

So, you were right, Tim; there’s no logic to it at all, but hopefully this gives some clarity.

John Fendersonsays:


I think their fantasy is that there is a benevolent system that can not only ensure everyone’s total safety, but can be trusted to be fair and honorable and only harrass “the bad guys”.

They forget it’s a fantasy until something that’s only supposed to happen to “the bad guys” happens to them.



The point is that because they don’t personally value their own privacy and security, nobody should value them highly. They chose to use Echo, so the rights of those people who chose not to sign away rights to Amazon shouldn’t care either.

It’s an idiotic point, and one that will most likely last only until a breach affects them personally, but a point nonetheless.


Quoting Glenn Greenwald

Over the last 16 months, as I’ve debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide.” I always say the same thing to them. I get out a pen, I write down my email address. I say, “Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.” Not a single person has taken me up on that offer.

Glenn Greenwald in Why privacy matters – TED Talk [from]

That One Guysays:

We're less worried about that one person, and more about the thousands behind him

I?ve already given up on all pretense of privacy by putting an always listening Amazon Echo in my bedroom (good morning, Jeff Bezos), which I?m sure the NSA could tap into whenever it wanted.

So she’s apparently fine with a government agent or twenty being able to listen in to anything that happens in her bedroom, but how about all the other people who are able to do that if they really feel like cracking the security? How does she feel about the idea of a random stranger being able to listen in? Still okay with it?

When people object to weakened or crippled privacy protections/encryption, they’re not doing so primarily because some random government agent might decide to peek into their personal stuff, but because weakening security opens the door for a ton of other people to take a peek as well.

Jeremy Lymansays:

“So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?”

You see we’ve had such a hard time controlling illegal drugs that we’re realizing that it may make a lot more sense to legitimize their use. People just go and use them anyway, damn the consequences. Restrictions don’t reduce demand, actually reward suppliers, and end up ruining many more lives than would most illicit substances.

In much the same way, we should respond to the threat of encryption by criminalizing the creation and use of actual secure systems. Security is much easier to identify in regard to whether it is allowed or banned, much harder to smuggle across jurisdictions, and much more dangerous to it’s users than pot.

We will declare war on encryption, it will flood the nation from 3rd world countries, become common place in various areas, our prison population will explode, we’ll spend 30 years and $1.5 trillion before realizing that it’s a pointless and kinda stupid struggle that most of us didn’t really want to undertake in the first place.

Perfect logic.

Wendy Cockcroftsays:

So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

I think she means “We ought to treat it as a healthcare issue with lots of therapy and training to re-enter the workplace after getting involved in things you really should have left alone.”

That’s assuming a Swiss-style approach where healthcare staff are present when phones are broken into in case someone OD’s on the information contained therein.

I prefer the Portuguese abstinence-based approach, myself.


And the logic is...

So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

Translation: “I’m a technology reporter, dammit. I know stuff. Just not about technology. Or drugs. Because no one’s arguing for a careful, legal pathway to drugs except me. And you’re reading me, damn you, so shut up.”


Making Sense

“So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?”

This reads to me as: Many would argue that legalizing drugs is generally bad. Not only can illegal drugs screw you up, illegal drugs helps enriches criminals and leads to increased criminal activity, due to the vast sums of money involved. Legalizing illegal drugs, while perhaps not that palatable to many, is a good idea because it helps combat the criminal activity made possible by illegal drugs.

Replace “illegal drugs” with “encryption” and “legalizing” with “backdooring”.


So in the same way I?d argue we legalize drugs, why not have a careful, legal pathway to break into a phone?

I hate to say this because I will probably be despised for it, but here goes: I think she’s arguing for legalizing the use of rohypnol in much the same way as she’d like to legalize forceable entry into our phones.

(Just to be clear, I do not agree with this form of “logic”)

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