Smartphones and the FBI’s Whinge

Wray speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference Oct. 22, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Balsamo)

The new FBI Director, Christopher Wray, announced recently that the FBI had been “unable to retrieve data” from as many as 6,900 iPhones in the last eleven months. Wray told the International Association of Chiefs of Police:

To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem. It impacts investigations across the board — narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.

WC just bets that the pesky Fourth Amendment, with its burdensome requirement for a search warrant, is a “huge, huge problem,” too. Probably the equally pesky Sixth Amendment, with its prohibition on warrantless arrest and right to counsel is also a “huge, huge problem.”


The FBI has learned to live with the Bill of Rights. It can learn to live with encrypted cell phones, too.

WC gets that there has to be a balance between privacy and law enforcement. For WC’s money, that balance is badly out of adjustment at present, skewed heavily in favor of Big Borther. The power of the government has reduced American privacy to thin shreds. Government-approved invasions by big business have only aggravated the situation. Wray’s whining for more government power is exactly the opposite of what we need. The Bill of Rights is under siege. In the name of law enforcement, in the name of “controlling crime,” we’ve severely limited a lot of the freedoms we formerly enjoyed.

Law enforcement demands for access to WC’s cell phone and your cell phone is lazy law enforcement. Rather than develop sources, or put wiretaps in place, the FBI wants to seize smartphones. Lazy, sloppy and useless in the long term. If Apple didn’t encrypt iPhones, there would be an app that did. And if the app were illegal, then it would just be a black market app.

More, if Congress forced smartphone manufacturers to build in a back door, it would be compromised by hackers in a year or less. Right now, on the evidence, the hackers are a lot smarter than the federal government. The feds cannot even keep secret their hacking tools. Those tools are in the hands of hackers, and the consequences for your personal information have been devastating. Trust the feds with a back door to everyone’s smart phone? Pure folly.

The encryption dispute between Apple and the FBI is still unresolved. It’s unclear whether recent changes to the iPhone operating system have defeated the hack that let a third party get into the San Bernadino terrorists’ iPhone. But WC’s sympathies and privacy are with Apple in that fight. Let’s keep what privacy we have left.