Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Scruggs, Vassallo Debate: Should Apple Allow FBI Access to iPhones?

Dickie Scruggs: Forcing Apple create a “back door” to its iPhones is handing foreign governments and hackers a pass-key to our most private information.

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs
Richard “Dickie” Scruggs

A court battle is raging between the FBI and Apple over the the four-digit passcode needed to open the iPhone seized from the San Bernardino terrorists. At issue is whether Apple can be compelled to create a program to defeat the phone’s anti-hacking software, which automatically erases the phone’s contents after 10 unsuccessful tries to guess the code.

Apple is appealing a judge’s order that it design a program to defeat the automatic erasure protocol so that a supercomputer can cycle through all four-digit combinations and open the phone. Apple argues that it never created a program to do that, and that if it could, it would be giving the US government (and foreign governments) a “pass key” to snoop on iPhones world-wide. Apple has marketed the iPhone internationally as hack-proof—even by Apple.

In traditional U.S. law, a search warrant requires only that evidence be turned over to law enforcement. Here, however, the judge has ordered Apple to proactively help law enforcement by creating something that doesn’t now exist.

There is no law directly on point, but the court is relying on a centuries-old law that gives courts a general power to issue an order “in aid” of its jurisdiction. One court has already ruled–in a similar case involving an iPhone–that this law cannot be used so expansively.

I agree. So does General Michael Hayden, the recent NSA Director who set up the government’s sweeping electronic surveillance system. In an interview just last week, General Hayden warned that the greater threat to American security is from hacking and cyber attacks by foreign governments. According to the General, foreign governments could immediately exploit Apple’s new back door to eavesdrop on Americans as well as their own citizens, since iPhones are ubiquitous.

I am also concerned with a further expansion of the All Writs Act (AWA), which is the old law relied upon by the one court that ordered Apple to construct a back door. Before now, the AWA was used, for example, to require a landlord to open a locked door with a pass key. Using the same example in this case, it would amount to ordering the landlord to build a door where none existed—quite a different proposition.

We should all worry when the government tries to expand its power in the name of national security. In this case, forcing Apple to build a back door to its iPhones would set a dangerous precedent that actually imperils our cyber security, not to mention our individual privacy.


Steve Vassallo: Apple should be forced to comply with FBI’s request.

Steve Vassallo
Steve Vassallo

Being a Goldwater conservative, this position may seem hypocritical, however when American lives are at risk, this is where I draw the line. The FBI is requesting of the company to write a new software to defeat password protections so that the iPhone of a mass killer can be examined to possibly identify other terrorists. To me, this is a no-brainer. On March 22 in Riverside, California, Judge Sheri Pym will hear the merits of the case.

The greater emphasis of the debate will be focused on balancing the needs of law enforcement against the privacy and personal safety issues of the public. The FBI is basing its position on the All Writs Act, a U.S. law dating back to the 1700s. FBI Director James Comey believes his team is at a disadvantage as criminals can apply encrypted communications to hide from law enforcement.

Apple is arguing that free speech and the right of due process are both in jeopardy should the FBI win the day. Apple is also emphasizing that the decision of this case does not simply impact one isolated iPhone, but the industry as a whole. Other computer firms are joining forces with Apple to protect the interests of the industry.

Had this issue come up at the time of 911, it would have been a rather easy decision. However now, it will probably find its resolution all the way to the United States Supreme Court. My position is similar to the one GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, has taken in dealing with ISIS. Mr. Trump wants to see our laws broadened to give the military more leverage in dealing
with terrorists. These animals (please forgive me animal kingdom) who have infiltrated our society and are murdering innocent American citizens should not be provided any shelters whatsoever in waging their cowardly acts.

It’s unfortunate that many of our rights must be compromised in order to combat these criminals on a level playing field.



Dickie Scruggs is one of Oxford’s best-known former attorneys who now expresses his passion for adult education through the GED in a unique state-wide program he has developed, aptly called “Second Chance.” Scruggs is a well known Democrat and anchors the position of the Left in Point/No-Point. He can be reached at DickScruggs@gmail.com.

Steve Vassallo of Oxford is a frequent contributor to HottyToddy.com covering a wide range of subjects. An arch conservative, the popular columnist holds the political position of the Right in Point/No-Point. He can be reached at sovassallo@gmail.com.

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