(1) So we have been living with information distribution services for some time now - in fact, the measure of advancing civilization seems to me to be directly correlated to the increasing quantum and ewfficiency of information distribution, The postal service delivers mail every day, has for 200 years. It is obviously practicable to open and read mail (totalitarian states do that routinely), yet we don't worry about it. We have used fhe telephone for 100 years. It is equally easy to tap calls, and has been done in tyrannical states. But we don't worry about that either.
The reason for our lack of concern is not some technological limitation - they don't exist. Steaming open a letter or tapping a phone are easy things to do In both cases, the inhibiting factor is the values we embody in rules of law. A postal worker who opens a letter without authorization goes to jail. Ditto someone who taps a phone line, or eavesdrops in some other way. The ONLY protection we have is that sanction. But we trust it, and in practice it has served us quite well.
So comes the Internet, with email, text, and other forms of distribution, and suddenly it is just all too scary and frightening to trust the criminal sanction and the societal values behind them. Although there is not a snowflake of evidence that the NSA and the other agencies have not been scrupulously law abiding, somehow that's not good enough. We begin to insist on a cloaking so extreme that it increases the potential of really ominous criminal enterprises - never mind that there is nothing in history or practice that justifies that fear.
Luddites were not distinguished by being technological ignoramuses - some of them knew the machinery they feared very well. The guys I refer to Luddites here and elsewhere are often much better technologists than I am. But if a fear of new technology based almost solely on its potential for change (rather than any proven abuse) is not Ludditism, I don't know what is.
We do NOT secure our concern for privacy of letters and phone conversations by creating mechanisms so secure that they are impenetrable under all circumstances. That's insane. We know that Bad Guys do abuse the systems from time to time to perpetrate real harm to some citizens. When we develop enough information to believe such misuse is occurring, we write it up and apply for judicial process to take a look at what would otherwise be private communications, It's really not that scary, in terms of its effect on privacy, and it seems to work. There's not a damn reason in the world why it isn't equally applicable to electronic information on the cellular networks.
What a number Edward Snowden has done on this entire society! Simply by revealing in stages the legal operations of the NSA, which it is chartered to do by Congress - absolutely astounding. But the NSA has only itself to blame. It should have been publicizing its activities as accomplishments, rather than shrouding them in secrecy. It invited scandalizing.
(2) So you're worried about Big Brother? Really? Which one? Since when do we put our trust in gigantic corporations rather than representative government? I noticed comments about the anti-government attitudes of a lot of Apple technologists, which is also the case at Google and elsewhere. But although they may be anti-government, they for sure are NOT anti-Big Brother. The question is which power.
I have described myself as a Populist, taking a little kidding from time to time. My politics basically come from the Progressive movement, the trust busters of the last century. They viewed the greatest danger to American democracy as the increasing unchecked private power of the monopolies and the super rich.
That's still the case.
There are a lot of posters here, who see public power as Bad and private power as Good. That's much too simple - both types of power have to be viewed warily and checked. But for my two cents, private power - feudal power - is far more dangerous. (That's the notion behind the wealth tax). With government power, you have the ultimate control of the ballot. If you don't like the rules the NSA plays by, you can vote in a new legislature and change them. You can't do that with Apple, or Google, or the others.
Silly me, but as a member of the public, I'd like to have a voice in these decisions - which I actually can do with the NSA, FBI, and the like. The good thing about the Sanders and Trump candidacies, maybe the only good thing, is that they are reminders of how powerful the public voice can be, when fully aroused. Government mechanisms are always within the control of the public. The problem is that we are often too slothful to care.
So Apple has decided on a business model which guarantees your immunity from process of law, no matter how devastatingly anti-social your use of it might be - this, by the way, on a communications system that is founded on a huge public expenditure. Ah . . . . sorry, Apple, You chose the wrong business model. We are perfectly willing to provide the same protections against eavesdropping and privacy as we provide for mail and telephone conversatons. But communications that cannot be accessed even by lawful court process upon an appropriate showing?
But . . . but . . . if Apple is forced to develop this variation of the IOS, all communications will be vulnerable?
I'll clue you - all communications ARE vulnerable. They always were. They are protected by rule of law and shared social values, nothing more, and that has always been good enough, and then some. No society in history has permitted particular individuals to carve out zones of absolute immunity within its own social matrix - because there ARE Bad Guys, and they are capable of doing real harm to particular individuals and sometimes whole masses of them. So you protect the ordinary course of human interaction from casual intrusion, but you DO want the power to retrieve when the right circumstances arise. Other people have rigths, too.
Charlie Sloan notoriously said that what was good for GM was good for the nation. It wasn't true - and it is no more true of Apple than it was of GM.
(3) The future? Apple is taking a giant step toward classification as public utility. It was the overreaching of the railroads that led to the creation of the ICC and similar commissions. Iphones are being used on common carriers - the day will not be long in coming when access to content with judicial process is required before you can register them.
(4) There is also the interesting question of civil liability. Normally, I have no use for the tort bar of this nation. But if some act of horrific mass violence occurs, preventable if not for this encryption, it will be my pleasure to watch the vermin pick the corpse of Apple clean. The litigators might actually accomplish something, instead of reading FDA reports for predictable side effects of useful drugs.
And if you want to avoid all the palaver above, it boils down to (a) the contents of internet communications and storage are protected already by a vigorously enforced statutory template, (b) concerns for privacy are absurdly overstated, and (c) the notion that Apple has the right to provide its customers with mechanisms to defeat duly issued judicial process is dangerous and frightening.