This is why the FBI’s scare stories tend to wither after public scrutiny. A former FBI assistant director wrote about a kidnapped man who would never have been found without the ability of the FBI to decrypt an iPhone, only to retract the point hours later because it wasn’t true.
We’ve seen this game before. During the crypto wars of the 1990s, FBI Director Louis Freeh and others would repeatedly use the example of mobster John Gotti to illustrate why the ability to tap telephones was so vital. But the Gotti evidence was collected using a room bug, not a telephone tap. And those same scary criminal tropes were trotted out then, too. Back then we called them the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: pedophiles, kidnappers, drug dealers, and terrorists. Nothing has changed.
The uproar from law enforcement officials brings to mind a line from Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil. Charlton Heston’s character, Mexican drug enforcement agent Miguel Vargas, says, “A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.”
(A masterpiece of a film, by the way. If you’ve never seen it, watch it.)
★ Thursday, 9 October 2014