Republican Candidates All Agree: Apple Should Be Obligated to Work for the FBI

Rubio, Cruz accept claim that the encryption fight is over "just one phone."


Stop thinking so different!
Credit: Dennis Goedegebuure / photo on flickr

The narrative coming out of tonight's debate will be all about Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz going hard after Donald Trump and actually landing punches, and whether it's too late to make a difference. Also, CNN's Wolf Blitzer pretty much ruined the debate every time a fight got interesting by throwing the discussion over to tiresome paternalistic Ohio Gov. John Kasich to blather away. Ben Carson was also there, like a palate-cleansing sorbet between subjects. He was always the last one asked a question on an issue (if he was asked anything at all).

Those waiting for the candidates to be asked about the fight between FBI and Apple over whether Apple can be forced to assist the government in weakening the security of dead San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone had to wait a very long time. It wasn't until nearly the end that it was brought up. All the candidates except for Trump weighed in (but he had previously declared his support for the FBI and called for a boycott of Apple).

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, none of the candidates believed there are any larger issues with what the FBI is asking. Both Rubio and Cruz say that Apple should cooperate and have accepted the claim that this order was just for this one phone. Apple has argued that what the FBI is asking (to weaken the level of security on the phone so that the FBI can attempt to brute force Farook's passcode without risking the phone deleting its contents) is not a one-time request at all. Indeed, the feds want Apple's help to access several other phones besides this one, according to the company.

There is absolutely no reason to think this is going to one-time request. It's deliberately putting on blinders about the bigger picture. Rubio even repeated the Department of Justice's talking points that Apple only cares about its branding, concluding his response with the applause line, "Their brand is not superior to the national security of the United States," which utterly ignores the potential national security issues that could be a result of Apple actually doing what the FBI asks.

Apple actually points it out in the introduction to their legal response to the judge's order that they filed today:

Since the dawn of the computer age, there have been malicious people dedicated to breaching security and stealing stored personal information. Indeed, the government itself falls victim to hackers, cyber-criminals, and foreign agents on a regular basis, most famously when foreign hackers breached Office of Personnel Management databases and gained access to personnel records, affecting over 22 million current and former federal workers and family members.

Nobody engaged with the First Amendment argument that Apple is being compelled to "speak" by being ordered to write code requested by the government. Cruz raised the Fourth Amendment and that the order is in full compliance, but this isn't really a Fourth Amendment issue. Nobody is arguing that the government doesn't have the authority to access the data. But Apple isn't the owner of the phone, the county of San Bernardino is. Apple is being drafted to do work for the government (work that has the potential to compromise everybody's security).

Carson said things, and nobody cared. Nobody notices what Carson says until he gets weird (there was something about fruit salad at some point). Kasich got creepy by fleshing out something he mentioned about encryption in a previous debate: He thinks the president, Apple, and security folks should "sit down in a back room" and hash out all of our privacy issues without the public even knowing about it. Mind you, there have been "back room" meetings on this all along and it became public because Apple said no and the FBI had no way to compel them other than to go to the courts. The idea that the government should secretly be deciding how much cybersecurity Americans should be allowed is flat out bonkers, so we should all be glad he's not a serious candidate.