Steinberg: The FBI nips at Apple

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My hiking boots are falling apart. So I went to REI. But their selection of Keens is spotty, so I jumped on the company website.

Far more sizes and styles. But there is a downside. Now whenever I log on to Facebook, I’m nagged.

“Shop KEEN footwear Now,” Facebook insists, with a photo of the very boots I’d like to buy, though in my own good time, thank you very much, and not because I’m being browbeaten by an algorithm.

My way of saying that privacy was not exactly enjoying a golden age before a judge ordered Apple to create software to thwart the anti-snooping program in its iPhones that wipes clean their memory after 10 abortive tries, so the FBI can crack a phone belonging to the terrorists who murdered 14 people in California last December.

Apple’s reply, in essence, is “in your dreams,” though more eloquently, in an open letter from CEO Tim Cook.

“The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create,” Cook writes. “They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

Apple’s point is that if the genie is conjured up and handed over to the FBI, it will exist, and the online world being what it is, once it’s out of the bottle, no one knows where it’ll go. Edward Snowden proved if you want something secret distributed broadly, put it in the care of the federal government.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook writes. “The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.”

Cook called for discussion; what he got is society lining up along the standard fault lines. Republicans, who make a show of scorning government when the sky’s clear, did their usual rainy day reversal, suddenly rolling at the feds’ feet like frightened puppies.

“Who do they think they are? They have to open it up,” Donald Trump said Wednesday, as if the iPhone were a tin of tuna. “We have to use common sense.”

Ben Carson, using his common sense, and perhaps confusing this situation with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, said the country might have to wait until Obama leaves office to resolve the FBI/Apple stand-off.

Ted Cruz, meanwhile, took a break from being the most frightening Republican candidate to observe  “Apple has a serious argument” before he reverted to form and added that refusing the FBI’s request is like defying a search warrant.

And Marco Rubio, also true to form, punted.

“There has to be a way to deal with this issue,” Rubio said. “I don’t have a magic solution for it today . . . but I do know this: It will take a partnership between the technology industry and the government to solve this.”

The Democrats did no better. If Rubio kicked the can down the road, Hillary Clinton booted a towering, end-over-end punt, calling for a “Manhattan-like project” to find a way for law enforcement to snoop on the phones of the terrorists in our future without undermining security for everybody else. Bernie Sanders was, perhaps wisely, mum on the issue, as far as I can tell.

When I got my first iPod, having all my music somehow crammed into this sleek, small, aluminum lozenge made me proud to be a human being, to be part of the same species that created such a thing. I have an Apple laptop, plus four iMacs — even though they cost more, because I decided in this one aspect, if nowhere else, I’d have the best. And an iPhone, one I do not want the government sticking its big bazoo into, if it can be avoided.

And as proud as I am of these devices, I’m prouder that Apple is making a stand for privacy, what little privacy remains. Because as public as our lives are now, with our friends ballyhooing their lunch daily on Facebook, there are hells below this one. At least our public confessions are voluntary. As bad as it is to be hounded by a boot company, it would be worse for the FBI to pop up on Facebook pointing out that they’ve noticed I have “Isis” by Bob Dylan on my iTunes playlist, and would I mind stopping by their office for a little chat?

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