He says the FBI argues that its surveillance capabilities are for the social good. “I’m not sure,” he says.” He thinks it unlikely that the terrorist’s work phone holds important information since it was left in a drawer in his apartment, while he destroyed his personal phone. Finding out for sure isn’t worth the undermining of the value of encryption. “Law enforcement should be difficult and it should be possible to break the law,” he says.
Marlinspike says a court win for the FBI could lead to even more intrusive actions. For example, the FBI might compel Apple to digitally sign applications in its App Store that contain malware to help FBI surveillance when suspects download them.
Diffie, who was also on the panel, said that the debate over encryption and technology in general will determine whether democracy itself survives. “We’re in a new era of confrontation of humans and machines. It’s the major issue of our age,” Diffie says. “Who controls the machine is who will control the world.”
In democracies people are held accountable for their actions but in tyrannies, people are denied the opportunity to have control of their actions, Diffie says, and that’s where things could be headed.
Ron Rivest, the “R” in RSA and a professor at MIT, says if Apple loses its appeal, the legal precedent it would set would be “quite breathtaking in scope.” Apple is being asked to create software that it otherwise doesn’t want to. He says forcing it to would mean that the FBI can ask any third party to do anything not prohibited by law. “What the FBI is asking seems inappropriate,” he says. “Congress should decide.”