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As the Apple vs. FBI Debate Rages, Congress Plots to Mandate Encryption Backdoors

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The more I read about the very public fight between Apple and the FBI, the more I become convinced the case merely represents the Lexington and Concord moment in a massive new crypto war. The surveillance state panopticon is extremely concerned that strong end to end encryption is increasingly being used in everyday consumer devices and applications, and has been scheming for a long time to figure out the best way to manipulate the public into accepting backdoor vulnerabilities.

To prove this point, I want to turn your attention to a few excerpts from an important Bloomberg article titled, Secret Memo Details U.S.’s Broader Strategy to Crack Phones:

Silicon Valley celebrated last fall when the White House revealed it would not seek legislation forcing technology makers to install “backdoors” in their software — secret listening posts where investigators could pierce the veil of secrecy on users’ encrypted data, from text messages to video chats. But while the companies may have thought that was the final word, in fact the government was working on a Plan B.

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Trump Sides with the FBI Against Apple; On Torture Proclaims “Water Boarding Is Fine but Not Tough Enough”

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When Donald Trump was asked about Apple’s decision, Trump did not bring up the complexity of the situation, the constant battle between government and individual, between private and public selves, between technology and law enforcement. He did not commend Apple for trying to stave off government’s incursion into our personal details. He did what Trump does: He came up with the easiest, simplest, basest possible reaction to an endlessly complicated issue, and he ran with it.

On Fox & Friends this morning, Trump said, “To think that Apple won’t allow us to get into her cellphone? Who do they think they are? No, we have to open it.”

– From Bloomberg

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the 2016 election season is the obvious fact that the GOP base has absolutely no interest in freedom, civil liberties or the Constitution. The huge success of the megalomaniac statist Donald Trump, as well as the pitiful performance of Rand Paul, has proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Many people will argue this has been obvious for quite some time, but the reason I bring it up is because both Ron Paul and his son Rand believed that the Republican party could serve as a useless albeit unwilling vessel to bring back liberty to these United States. The 2016 GOP primary has proven once and for all that this was pure fantasy.

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Apple Vows to Defend Its Customers as the FBI Launches a War on Privacy and Security

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Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

– From Apple CEO Tim Cook’s letter: A Message to Our Customers

I’ve spend most of the morning reading as much as possible about the explosive battle between the FBI and Apple over consumer rights to digital privacy and security. I came away with a refined sense of just how monumental this case is, as well as a tremendous amount of respect for Apple CEO Tim Cook for his public stance against the feds.

Before I get into the issue at hand, some background is necessary. The feds, and the FBI in particular, have been very vocal for a long time now about the desire to destroy strong encryption, i.e., the ability of citizens to communicate privately. A year ago, I wrote the following in the post, By Demanding Backdoors to Encryption, U.S. Government is Undermining Global Freedom and Security:

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FBI Agent’s Laptop Hacked and Found to Contain Over 12 Million Apple User IDs

This is just lovely.  So apparently several hacker activist groups got into FBI agent Christopher Stangl’s laptop and found:

A list of 12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID), user names, name of device, type of device, Apple Push Notification Service tokens, zipcodes, cellphone numbers, addresses, etc.

What makes this story even better is that Mr. Stangl was the guy who posted a video in 2009 imploring Computer Science majors to join the FBI.  Makes sense.  I guess you need a lot of people to keep tabs on the sheeple’s communications 24/7.  Move along folks…nothing to see here.  Your government loves you.  Now go get on food stamps, watch some football and shut up.

Forbes covered this story and you can read the article here.

FBI Caught Planting Microphones Under Rocks, Inside Light Fixtures, and at Bus Stops in California

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When a reporter for the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command interviewed Frank Zappa for the commands news syndicate, the story was held by a superior who demanded that Zappa – who had been rather hard on the army – answer one more question: just who does he think will defend the country without the army? 

Zappa’s reply: “From what? The biggest threat to America today is it’s own federal government…. Will the Army protect anybody from the FBI? The IRS? The CIA? The Republican Party? The Democratic Party?….The biggest dangers we face today don’t even need to sneak past our billion dollar defense system….they issue the contracts for them.” The interview was not run. 

*Note: It’s uncertain whether the above exchange ever took place, since the interview was never run. Nevertheless, the point is clear, instructive and serves as the perfect introduction for this post, whether the words were actually said or not.

One of the greatest afflictions affecting these United States at the moment is the general public’s overwhelming gullibility when it comes to government. You may think this sounds insane given surveys that consistently show Congress with a less than 10% approval rating, but I think this clouds the fact that most people have yet to accept just how completely corrupt and authoritarian government has actually become.

I don’t mean for this to become some sort of big rant against government in general. Our founders set up a brilliant system which has served the country well for over two centuries. What people seem to forget is our system of government wasn’t set up to create a new set of parental authority figures for the public. The entire intent behind the Constitution was to create a series of checks and balances to restrain government from becoming too powerful and working against the interests of the public. Government’s primary role in America is supposed to be to protect the Constitution and defend the cherished civil liberties defined within it. In 2016, it does precisely opposite.

Our government isn’t just corrupt though. Indeed, the primary function of government at the moment is to protect status quo criminals from the public, not the other way around. This is why the rich and powerful are never held to account, which is in turn why it continues to get worse and worse. A key gatekeeper in this whole scheme against the citizenry is the FBI.

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Tech Civil Disobedience – Will Apple Engineers Refuse to Follow Unethical Government Orders?

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Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?  Why has every man a conscience then?  I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.  It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

– Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience (1849)

Yesterday, the New York Times published an extremely important article examining whether Apple engineers are prepared to potentially refuse government orders they deem unethical. If so, it would represent a historical and courageous moment of civil disobedience in the spirt of Edward Snowden, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau and countless others forgotten by the fog of history. Indeed, if we are to regain any semblance of freedom and liberty, we must rediscover our proud heritage of civil disobedience.

In the modern world, with so much government surveillance being done behind the scenes and via technology, we’ve become increasingly dependent on individuals within the tech sector to stand up and do the right thing. This puts us in a precarious situation, which is why we must be prepared to stand by and support any and all Apple employees who defend our civil liberties against the unconstitutional surveillance leviathan.

We learn from the New York Times:

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Video of the Day – John McAfee Proclaims “An Apple Backdoor is the End of America”

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When it comes to Apple vs. the FBI, you can listen to Donald Trump, or you can listen to someone who knows what he’s talking about. If you’d like to do the latter, take a watch.

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The New Crypto Wars – FBI Director James Comey Threatens Silicon Valley

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I’ve covered in detail how the U.S. establishment has been aggressively pushing against the American public’s right to private communications, i.e. encryption, ever since the terror attacks in Paris. This push continues unabated, with the latest shots fired earlier today by FBI chief James Comey at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

We learn the following from the Intercept:

FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday called for tech companies currently offering end-to-end encryption to reconsider their business model, and instead adopt encryption techniques that allow them to intercept and turn over communications to law enforcement when necessary.

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Apple’s Massive Security Flaw: NSA Exploit or an Honest Mistake?

If you use Apple products you need to be aware of a very serious bug affecting the operating systems running on their devices. I was first made aware of this on Friday when John Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green tweeted the following:

Since I was away for the weekend, I wasn’t able to do any research into this until today. Fortunately, I came across an excellent article from Gizmodo. In a nutshell, it appears that Apple has released fixes for mobile devices (iPhones and iPads), but you need to go ahead and perform a software update to iOS 7.0.6. Unfortunately, there is no fix yet for Macs. This means if you are operating a Mac computer and using public wifi you should not use Safari as your browser. It is suggested you use Firefox or Chrome.

Even more terrifying is that although this flaw only became widely known about in the past several days, it has been there since September 2012. This has resulted in some claims of conspiracy. As Gigazom notes:

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Meet Ability Inc – The Israeli Company That Wants to Hack Your Cellphone

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When you first go on duty at CIA headquarters, you raise your hand and swear an oath — not to government, not to the agency, not to secrecy. You swear an oath to the Constitution. So there’s this friction, this emerging contest between the obligations and values that the government asks you to uphold, and the actual activities that you’re asked to participate in.

By preying on the modern necessity to stay connected, governments can reduce our dignity to something like that of tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they’re in our pockets. It sounds like fantasist paranoia, but on the technical level it’s so trivial to implement that I cannot imagine a future in which it won’t be attempted. It will be limited to the war zones at first, in accordance with our customs, but surveillance technology has a tendency to follow us home.

– From the post: A Whistleblower Manifesto by Edward Snowden

Yesterday, Forbes published an interesting and disturbing article profiling a company called Ability Inc in the post: For $20M, These Israeli Hackers Will Spy On Any Phone On The Planet.

First, the good news. As the article notes, the company has been struggling as of late with lawsuits and it seems obvious to me that the reason Ability agreed to talk to Forbes is for some free advertising. If the company was performing particularly well, there’d be no need to agree to this interview and executives would try to keep their business practices as clandestine as possible. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a global “industry” like this exists in the first place. While virtually all countries in the world have harsh penalties for individuals who decide to do drugs on their own time and to their own bodies, governments appear to have no problem with corporations that exist solely to violate people’s privacy. Probably because these same governments as the main clients of such companies. The fact that we put up with this and pretend it’s a legitimate business practice is an embarrassment to us as a species.

Now, without further ado, here are some excerpts from the Forbes piece:

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