Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Federal investigators hold the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the terrorist who helped slaughter 14 innocents in San Bernardino, California. They want to look at its contents but can’t because the device is encrypted and Apple has refused to unlock it.

The matter ended up in federal court, where a magistrate judge ordered Apple to hack Farook’s cellphone. Apple has rejected the judge’s order, citing privacy concerns.

Apple is in the wrong. As Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance points out, the government’s case rests on centuries of law holding that “no item — not a home, not a file cabinet and not a smartphone — lies beyond the reach of a judicial search warrant.”

There exists no “right of privacy” to withhold evidence of a crime. The idea that the cellphone is a privileged communications device that must be off-limits to law enforcement is nonsense.

The court’s not telling Apple to create what one critic of the judge’s order called a “design defect,” a backdoor that puts all users in danger of being hacked by identity thieves and other creeps. It has ordered Apple to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation get into a single iPhone.

To do this, Apple must create a hacking tool, which, some fret, could get into the wrong hands. But the decrypting could be done on Apple property by Apple people — and the tool kept in Apple’s famously secure vault.

While Apple’s stance is unacceptable, it is understandable from a limited business point of view. Apple worries that if it gives U.S. law enforcement access to encrypted cellphones, countries less sensitive to civil liberties would demand the same. Places like China and Russia could grab the technology for widespread use against their citizens. China is Apple’s second biggest market after the United States.

U.S. tech companies and civil libertarians are supporting Apple’s stance. Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology expressed some of the fears. Cellphones “have become effectively a part of our bodies,” she wrote. Hers has contacts, medical records, kids’ report cards, pictures and so forth.

All the more reason not to carry all that information around in one’s handbag, we might say. But even if a master key for unlocking iPhones got on the loose, the brutes would still need to possess the physical iPhone and spend perhaps years trying to get past a strong password.

Full-disclosure time. Your writer is a voracious consumer of Apple products and an investor in Apple Inc. stock. She’s not selling her shares for the following reasons:

Before the recent iPhone decryption debate, China was already demanding a backdoor to its citizens’ computers and phones. Chinese consumers know the score.

And there are American sensibilities to consider. FBI Director James Comey spoke for many when he said national policy on confronting terrorism should not be left to “corporations that sell stuff for a living.” It shouldn’t matter how cool the stuff is.

Victims of the San Bernardino attack are filing a legal brief supporting the U.S. government’s position. And for what it’s worth, Donald Trump has called for a boycott of Apple products if the company does not cooperate.

No one said that drawing a line between privacy and security is simple — and new technology keeps moving that blurred border. But Comey is right. The job of setting national security priorities has not been outsourced to Silicon Valley boardrooms. It is a matter for our federal government.

Dear Apple: Frustrating efforts to track terrorists is not a great marketing strategy. Your wisest move would be to make some noise and then help the FBI break into a terrorist’s iPhone.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: The Apple logo is pictured behind the clock at Grand Central Terminal in the Manhattan borough of New York, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.