How The State Makes Us Less Secure Part MLVI

Statists often claim that the State is necessary for the common defense. If this were the case I would expect it to do what it can to make everybody safer. Instead it does the opposite. In its pursuit of power the State continues to take actions that make everybody under its rule less safe.

The latest chapter in this ongoing saga revolves around the iPhone of Syed Farook. After trying to get a court to force Apple to write a custom firmware for Farook’s iPhone that would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to brute force the passcode, the agency postponed the hearing because it claimed to have found another method to get the data it wants. That method appears to be an exploit of some sort but the Justice Department has classified the matter so we may never know:

A new method to crack open locked iPhones is so promising that US government officials have classified it, the Guardian has learned.

The Justice Department made headlines on Monday when it postponed a federal court hearing in California. It had been due to confront Apple over an order that would have forced it to write software that would make it easier for investigators to guess the passcode for an iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook.

The government now says it may have figured out a way to get into the phone without Appleā€™s help. But it wants that discovery to remain secret, in an effort to prevent criminals, security researchers and even Apple itself from reengineering smartphones so that the tactic would no longer work.

By classifying this method the Justice Department is putting, at minimum, every iPhone 5C user running the same firmware as Farook’s phone at risk. But the exploit likely reaches further and may even put every user of every iOS device at risk.

Since Farook’s iPhone is in the State’s possession there is no risk of its firmware being upgraded. That being the case, there’s no reason for the Justice Department not to disclose the vulnerability its exploiting. Even if the exploit is disclosed the agency will still be able to use it to gain access to the data on Farook’s phone (assuming the exploit works as implied). But disclosing it would allow Apple to patch it so it couldn’t be used against the millions of innocent people using iOS devices.

There is a conflict of interest inherent in statism. The State is supposed to provide for the common defense of those within its territory. At the same time it’s charged with investigating crimes and dispensing justice. In order to fulfill the latter goal it must be able to gain access to whatever information it deems pertinent to an investigation. Ensuring that access is available conflicts with providing for a common defense since an effective defense against foreign aggressors, especially as it relates to protecting data, is also an effective defense against the State.