It’s all over the news: the federal government “cracked” the iPhone. Or did it? Tech industry followers know that conspiracy theories are abundant. Maybe Apple actually cooperated with the government through some back-door deal. Or maybe there actually are hackers working for the government who did hack the iPhone. In that case, if the iPhone can be hacked, what does this say about Apple’s security? These are only some of the theories and worries that are going around.
As a multi-time tech founder, I can’t emphasize enough how much I care about security. It is paramount. If a company can’t assure customers that their data and devices are secure, they won’t be a company for very long. Customers care a lot about having cool technology, but they care more about their rights to security and privacy. That’s why this battle over iPhone security matters a lot beyond conspiracy theories. People are going to need to know the full, true story of what happened as well as how it happened in order to feel that their devices and data are safe.
What trumps concerns about the safety of data and devices, though, are concerns about the safety of people. One of the most important roles of governments everywhere is to keep people safe. Terrorism is a real threat. Protecting people from terrorist acts requires some latitude when it comes to accessing devices. Tech companies have a responsibility to cooperate with the government in these situations. The government has a right to intercept communications between bad guys — period. This does not mean that government should have carte blanche access to devices and data. Yet during this war on terrorism, it is critical to err on the side of overreach rather than under-reach. People’s very lives are at stake. I have to trust that elected officials will put security measures in the form of laws into place to protect us all from potential government abuse of this power to access information. We have needed this access and these protections during every war. The war on terrorism must be treated the same as a war against any enemy if we are to remain safe.
Cooperation between tech companies and governments is critical in these cases because the only other option — hacking — is extremely dangerous, just as terrorists are. I believe that hackers should be punished severely. They should not be employed by our government to hack phones or anything else. Hacking is too uncontrollable, which is why Apple not providing a backdoor into its phones is so very important, actually. Their phones should not be hackable. That’s not to say that there should not be an access point from which companies and governments can cooperate to fight this war, but it shouldn’t be a hackable back door. For any government that relies on its people to trust them to look out for their well-being, the inherent dishonesty of hacking has to be avoided.
The fact that our government bragged about cracking the iPhone reflects poorly on both our government and on Apple. This situation could have been handled quietly, but now millions of consumers will be petrified that their iPhones are unsafe. This is the very definition of a lose/lose situation. The government may have gotten the access it sought, but it did so at way too high of a price. Anything connecting the word “hacking” to our government is just a bad idea.
I hope that the full story of what happened here comes to light and that it does, in fact, involve cooperation that was eleventh-hour and spun poorly in the press. The other option — that the iPhone was hacked, whether or not by the government — is a pretty hard one to stomach. We won’t be able to imprison hackers who are up to no good if we are also employing them to the same end. In the interest of safety, tightly-regulated cooperation — not hacking — is essential for our most secure future, from the perspectives of tech companies, users, and governments alike.