I’ve never seen so many people sitting around wishing desperately that the federal government could track their activities more intrusively.
Have seven years of Obama taught them nothing? This was Fox’s Special Report panel, last night, all huffing and puffing angrily about Apple CEO Tim Cook and his refusal to give the FBI a method for overriding an iPhone security feature, which very probably would enable the FBI to break into your iPhone whenever it wants to. (For the record, the panelists were Charles Krauthammer, Stephen Hayes, and A.B. Stoddard. If I find a video of this panel segment, I’ll add it.)
The issue itself is somewhat technical (although not overly so). Laymen can be forgiven for getting a key point or two wrong, as the panelists in fact did. They claimed that the “override” fix the FBI is asking for would inherently apply only to the iPhone used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook – just because the judge so ordered it.
That is incorrect (see link). If the override were developed, it would quite probably enable the FBI to override the security feature on any iPhone. (The feature is a limit on the number of invalid PINs that can be tried, before the iPhone locks you out from all further attempts. In a technical sense, there can be no guarantees that the method Apple has been ordered to come up with would in fact have limited application only to the one iPhone that belonged to Farook. It almost certainly wouldn’t. This is a really big issue for technology and the law.)
But I don’t have any confidence that the Fox panel would have been smarter if its members understood the issue better. The real problem was that they didn’t come down in principle on the side of privacy. They could have at least expressed regret, or been reluctant about siding with the FBI.
But they were slavering urgently for whatever measure the FBI demanded to get into Syed Farook’s iPhone – as if all our lives depended on giving law enforcement any privacy-busting capability it sees a need for.
Technology doesn’t change the fact that this perspective is the opposite of the perspective of the Fourth Amendment. If our highest priority should be opening the people’s lives up to law enforcement, in case there are terror links lurking in our coupon drawers, then we should throw the Fourth Amendment out and require the people to all give the police keys to our homes, so it will be less of a hassle for them to get in whenever they declare a need to.
Conservatives are supposed to be smarter than this. Let’s walk through it briefly to clarify why there is no need to bust the built-in security feature of the iPhone for the FBI’s general convenience.
First of all, the FBI could ask for the data from the Farook iPhone, without demanding the ability to override the iPhone’s security features. Getting the information that way would comport with the longstanding spirit of our laws, which are designed to protect individual privacy and limit the power of government.
Farook is dead, and there can be no privacy issue with handing over the data from his iPhone. In any case, getting a warrant for that data is the bread and butter of law enforcement work. If that’s all the FBI were attempting here, we’d never even hear about the issue. It would be done by now.
But it appears the Obama administration is using the Syed Farook case as a wedge, to set the precedent that IT security vendors must give law enforcement a back door into people’s privately-owned communication devices.
The promise that the back door will only be used pursuant to due process is nice. But that’s all it is. The whole situation is a moral hazard the size of the Andromeda Galaxy. Of course governments can’t be trusted with this power against the people. The very first thing that’s going to happen is that the power will be abused. The precedent that’s been set would then have us tumbling down a slippery slope at light speed.
It’s as if the conservative “establishment” is living on a different planet. No government, in any time or place, can be trusted with this power. The default assumption should always be in favor of privacy for the people and tight reins for government. There is always a tension in that dynamic, but the tension of limiting government and enforcing privacy is better than any alternative.
The people don’t have to live their lives proving that they have nothing to hide. It’s their natural right to have freedom from that. Period. There are no caveats or exceptions.
Government is just other people, after all. If you wouldn’t let your neighbor snoop on you whenever he wanted to, just to be sure you’re not doing something he wouldn’t like, then you shouldn’t let “government” do it.
If people have begun to appear among us who do have terror plans to hide, the remedy is not to attack the fundamental freedom of privacy. It’s to change the other circumstances: who’s appearing; what the punishment is for terrorism; whether terrorism can be used successfully for anything.
It’s better to exclude 500 million people from the United States, on the basis that they are high-risk immigrants, just because of their basic profile – e.g., single Muslim males under 45 – than to subject one American citizen to an excess of government power.
It’s better to regime-change 20 foreign countries than to subject one American citizen to an excess of government power. (It’s better to regime-change the state sponsors of terror than to assassinate terrorists, for that matter.)
But it’s better than anything else to acknowledge what the terror fight is – a surging theo-political offensive by the acolytes of a radical Islamic ideology – and stand up and say, “The radical Islamic ideology is pure evil. We reject it, and we will live instead in hope and freedom. Don’t get in our way. We do not fear to say that we are Christians, and we are Jews, and that’s why the civilization we come from is one of hope and freedom. We prize tolerance for other beliefs, and indeed for the claim of no belief. But it is not those other beliefs that have made us tolerant, peaceable, and free. The difference between us and you is that we do have hope, and that’s why we do not fear freedom. Bring it, radical Islamists. You set before us death, but we choose life. See this day which one the God of our fathers prospers.”
If you want to know why the conservative establishment of America is so supine before the relentless, daily attacks of marauding government on our constitutional rights, it’s because our conservative leaders will no longer say that.
Until they are so willing, it really is becoming time to stop listening to them.