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Apple vs the FBI

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

All reasonably modern Apple devices have very good built-in security. If you were worried that your iPhone, or iPad, or Mac (if it is set up correctly) can be “cracked” and all the information on it be made readable then fear no more. Obviously even the FBI can’t crack an iPhone and neither can Apple.

We know this because the FBI have an iPhone 5c which belonged to one of the perpetrators of the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino. But they can’t get into it and neither can Apple even when the FBI asks them to.

So now the feds want Apple to create a new version of the operating system which disables the automatic deletion feature when the PIN code is incorrect after 10 tries. In fact they have a court order which forces Apple to do this. But Apple has so far refused and will appeal the decision.

But why? Why would Apple want to protect a terrorist’s information when they could instead help with the investigation? Is it because they don’t want to waste the time and money on a project which has no benefit to them? Do they want to protect any guilty parties or hinder the investigation in some way? Or do they want to protect their customers and maintain the security of the platform?

I think it’s obvious that the first two options really don’t make sense so it seems that Apple really do want to make a stand here on behalf of the users and not compromise the security and privacy they currently have.

It’s actually quite a courageous position because I am fairly sure that almost any other company would have simply complied with the legal requirement of cooperation and helped break the security.

So it might be courageous but is it wise? Shouldn’t Apple be prepared to sacrifice privacy in this one case to help with the investigation of a serious criminal event? Probably not, because whatever the feds say, this will not be the only time they use an ability like this and it’s unlikely to remain with an organisation which ostensibly represents the “good guys”.

There are two clear problems if a way is created to bypass security: first, the official law organisations will almost surely use it for illicit purposes such as stealing private data belonging to political opponents of the government; and second, the technique will equally surely find its way into the hands of the real bad guys (that is the bad guys who are even worse than the good guys, who are often quite bad themselves).

This is a rare case where someone is actually doing what I have suggested is everybody’s obligation: do do what is right rather than what is legal. And, although there are many things I criticise Apple for, I think this is an example of where they do have standards far above most other corporations. For doing what’s right I give them full credit.

Dangerous Superstitions

June 16, 2009 Leave a comment

When I indulge in one of my infamous anti-religion rants a common question my opponents ask me is “what is the harm?” They say that what people believe may not be technically true but is that really a problem? Does it really matter what people believe, no matter how silly it might be?

A lot of the time it doesn’t, of course, but there are two reasons I persist with criticising religious (and other superstitious) beliefs. The first is that I just have a philosophical belief that people should know the truth and not build their lives around nonsensical lies. The second is that religious beliefs do have negative side effects and they can occasionally be serious.

A recent case here in New Zealand concerned a case of an exorcism which lead to the death of one victim and injuries to another. The people involved happened to be Maori, a group which seems to be more susceptible to superstition than many others, so there must have been a lot of pressure from the perspectives of religion and political correctness to be lenient. But the verdict was guilty of manslaughter which could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Judging by the response of the family members it doesn’t seem as though they have really accepted the seriousness of the charges but people who believe in nonsense very rarely see where they are wrong no matter how obvious it is to everyone else.

These people were doomed I suppose, they seem to have accepted the worst drivel from traditional Maori and traditional Christian beliefs. What chance could they possibly have to make a sensible decision about the welfare of their family members?

I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t have interesting beliefs and stories, they are quaint and make life interesting, but there is a limit to how seriously these stories should be taken. Yes, my classic quote applies again: religion is fine as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Another good way to put it came from a tv program I saw years ago (I can’t even remember what it was). A priest or minister was asked to justify his beliefs regarding how what he said was a good God would send people to be tortured forever. When asked whether he thought Hell existed he said “of course, but I don’t think anyone ever gets sent there”.

Really what he was saying was that Hell doesn’t exist because what’s the point if its never used? But he wanted to maintain the myth without turning it into anything scary and evil (as it would be if his god sent people there). It was a classic case of someone treating religion with an appropriate level of seriousness.

So superstition can be dangerous and these superstitions can be both traditional indigenous beliefs and more “sophisticated” western superstitions like Christianity. Its great that they exist as myths (and myths should be treated seriously for their metaphorical messages) but never, ever believe they are true!