At this point in the ongoing battle between Apple and the FBI, a fresh voice is needed to cut through the noise and explain it all in a way that makes sense. There’s been so much back and forth between both sides over the last few weeks, that it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything.
That’s exactly what HBO’s John Oliver did Sunday on the last episode of “Last Week Tonight.” It’s one of the clearest explanations of the case you’ll get.
Oliver starts the 18-minute segment by explaining how encryption is good for keeping hackers at bay. He references how hackers were able to take over a Jeep while it was driving on the freeway.
In the San Bernardino case, the FBI wants Apple to help it break into a dead terrorist's iPhone by hacking past the passcode restrictions on the device. Apple argues that it's being asked to create a 'master key' that could be used again in other cases and exploited by hackers.
'No one would want a master key built that could turn hundreds of millions of locks,' Tim Cook recently told ABC News. He called what the FBI wants 'the software equivalent of cancer.'
The FBI says Apple could throw away the code it creates to unlock the iPhone once it's used, but Oliver says 'no one seriously thinks that's going to happen.'
'Think of the government as your dad,' says Oliver. 'If he asks you to help him with his iPhone, be careful. Because if you do it once, you're going to be doing it 14 times per day.'
For example, Manhattan's district attorney has said he has 175 phones he wants Apple to help unlock in other court cases if the FBI gets its way in San Bernardino. Apple's stance is that if that if it obeys the FBI order, it will start a precedent in which it has to allow law enforcement to even more devices.
Even if Apple could help the FBI and not be susceptible to outside hackers, which Oliver points out experts say is impossible, it wouldn't solve the 'going dark' problem.
Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram offer full encryption and have hundreds of millions of users.
There are also threats to consider from other countries if a master key is created. 'China and Russia have as much respect for privacy as horny teenagers in 80s comedies,' says Oliver.
'There is no easy side to be on in this debate,' summarises Oliver, who says he sides with Apple. 'Strong encryption has its costs, from protecting drug dealers to child pornographers. But I happen to feel that the risks of weakening encryption, even a little bit, even for just the government, are potentially much worse.'
The segment ends with a mock Apple ad about how the company is always trying to stay one step ahead of 'guys like Gary' who want to hack your iPhone. (That's actually comedian Eugene Mirman playing 'Gary' here.)
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