Nate Jackson / February 25, 2016

Former NSA Chief Skeptical of FBI’s Backdoor Demand

“I think on balance that actually harms American safety and security.”

When news broke last week that the FBI was demanding a backdoor into the iPhone of a San Bernardino terrorist, we cautioned that doing so wasn’t just a case of breaking into just this one phone this one time. The FBI was really asking two things: a backdoor to iPhones in general, and a legal precedent for using it. Apple is fighting the demand.

They’re not alone. No less than Michael Hayden, the former chief of both the NSA and CIA as well as a retired four-star Air Force general, isn’t convinced the government is right. “In this specific case,” he said, “I’m trending toward the government, but I’ve got to tell you in general I oppose the government’s effort, personified by FBI Director Jim Comey. Jim would like a backdoor available to American law enforcement in all devices globally. And, frankly, I think on balance that actually harms American safety and security, even though it might make Jim’s job a bit easier in some specific circumstances.”

Indeed, the government has more phones for Apple to crack.

Hayden also said rather honestly, “Look, I used to run the NSA, okay? Backdoors are good. Please, please, Lord, put back doors in, because I and a whole bunch of other talented security services around the world — even though that back door was not intended for me — that backdoor will make it easier for me to do what I want to do, which is to penetrate. … But when you step back and look at the whole question of American security and safety writ large, we are a safer, more secure nation without backdoors [because] a lot of other people would take advantage of it.”

And speaking of precedents, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted, “If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write. Maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance. Maybe it’s the ability for law enforcement to turn on the camera. I mean I don’t know where this stops.” In other words, what is the limiting principle for government power?

Perhaps that’s one reason why Apple’s already developing a way to thwart the workaround the FBI seeks…

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