This is my two cents on the Apple court dispute currently in the news.
There is a locked safe inside the home of a criminal who committed heinous crimes. In fact, he is no longer even alive. The police obtain a warrant for everything inside the house, including the safe, which there is good reason to believe contains very valuable evidence of criminal activity and could even lead to other subjects. But it’s a safe with a really incredible lock that the government can’t crack without the entire safe self-destructing and the essential contents destroyed. The company that built the age may be able to open it. But when law enforcement asks for the safe company’s help, the safe company refuses, citing “privacy concerns.”
I find this to be outrageous. The government’s request is not dissimilar from all sorts of requests commonly made. Phone companies are forced to turn over records all the time. Without also providing interpretations of raw data, the evidence would be useless. So of course they do not just provide billions of strings of encrypted code, even if their own servers are encrypted. The safe company itself chose to build a super sophisticated lock that it of course knew could be used to conceal, aid, and abet criminal activity. If they chose to build such a sophisticated encryption, it is not unreasonable to ask them to open it up, if it is possible to do so.
The slippery slope argument commonly made (i.e. if one safe is opened then none are safe (pardon the pun)) is fallacious in that it does not give law enforcement carte blanche to open up everyone’s safes. It gives law enforcement legal precedent to obtain evidence through valid legal process. The argument could just as easily be applied to phone records, yet it is settled law that one does not have an absolute right to keep one’s phone conversations private. Nobody has an absolute right to privacy and it’s quite egotistical for a private company to try to be the arbiter of what rights to privacy American citizens have. The dead criminal has no legal rights whatsoever, let alone some vague “privacy right” granted to him by a private company. The drug dealer has no absolute right to keep the information on his encrypted phone out of law enforcement’s hands. That has never been an accepted interpretation of privacy or the 4th Amendment in this country, nor should it be.