Backdoor Blues Need Legal Lyrics

The FBI’s request for Apple to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooters has led to a far-reaching controversy in the United States. Parties on both sides of the issue have valid concerns, and we believe resolutions will need to come in the forms of a Supreme Court ruling (probably first) and federal legislation to better align technology and the law.

In our opinion, this collision was bound to happen because the push and pull between national security and privacy have gotten stronger as technology has made us part of a global society. Looking just at the United States, technology has advanced at a far greater pace than our legal system’s ability to keep up with it. Further, no matter how tightly our laws are written, there are always differing interpretations, and in our legal system, differences are resolved (in theory) through the courts and the appeal process. Even if Congress were to pass a law now to resolve the issue, one side would contest it.

Thus, the likelihood is that any legal decision will be based on a law that is already on the books, and it could wind up before a deadlocked Supreme Court. That’s a possibility, given our political environment.

This is where opinion ends. Here are the issues to consider.

There is no end. Once this specific cell phone is unlocked, the genie is out of the bottle – and the genie has the key to Pandora’s box. As we understand the legal world in practical, lay terms, there will be other legal cases in this country to justify unlocking a phone or any other access point to data, and arguments will be based on rulings that involve this phone. If a party in a lawsuit can successfully make the case that another request justifies unlocking a phone – with an argument made on a very fine point of law – a local or state government, in addition to our federal government, could gain access to data.

Knowing that a backdoor or master key is available, a foreign government could force a US technology company doing business in its country to unlock data. US businesses and citizens could be put between the old rock and hard place without the same legal protections that we have in this country.

There are no secrets. As the saying goes, “a secret is only secret when one person knows it.” Any solution to unlock the password and data on this particular phone will be a team effort. The greater the size of the team, the greater the chance a hacker will find a way to uncover the secret.

The defenses will need to be massive. If Apple and Google have software to unlock encrypted phones, they will be subject to massive “attacks” by parties interested in getting the code. Cyberwar is fought all the time by governments, corporations and hackers of all stripes. Who is going to keep the code, and who is going to have access to it? Defending against attacks burdens the tech companies.

Nobody’s data will be secure. This is the heart of the technology companies’ argument. They tout the security of their customers’ information, whether it be personal identification, health records and financial records. Corporations depend on security and access to how products are manufactured and how products and services are priced. We have already seen how a weakness in a contractor’s IT system opened a door to Target’s records. If someone can get into your phone, how safe will your life’s savings be? Could somebody use your healthcare and identity information to obtain services fraudulently and stick you with the bill?

The tech companies believe they have a responsibility to protect their customers’ data. There are very few issues that bring Apple, Google, Microsoft and others together like this one. It goes beyond mobile phones and tablets. Businesses, institutions and governments collect and store huge amounts of sensitive or proprietary data in “the cloud,” a global system of secure servers, routers and hard drives. These same organizations make extensive use of mobile phones and tablets. The tech companies argue that they must not do anything to violate the trust their customers place in them to protect the data.

What’s the greater risk? Is it a terrorist attack or somebody wiping out the life’s savings of millions of people in a matter of seconds?

Society needs to decide the privacy vs. security issue. It’s not right to make businesses the arbiters of public policy. We need an open, honest discussion of all the ramifications of possible laws, including the unintended consequences that always arise, and we need laws that do the right thing. There will never be complete agreement, and the right thing may not be the popular thing.

You can read many of the arguments from Apple and other tech companies here – as well as support from various privacy groups. There are no easy answers to the questions surrounding the issue.

Our call to action here is to speak up. We invite you to leave a comment below, and we encourage you to contact your government representatives to let them know what you think. We can sing the blues about privacy vs. security, but at the end of the day, our lyrics need to lead to laws.


Connected Cars are in (Apple) Play

I bought today’s ultimate gadget about a month ago – after hearing all about it from one of our clients. It’s a Volvo XC90, and I am having a blast with the benefits of Apple Car Play. For me, it’s the ultimate connected car. The car’s capabilities range from infotainment to assisting me with driving it.

Driving assistance is absolutely amazing. Its adaptive cruise control matches the speed of traffic, and in heavy traffic, it will almost bring the car to a complete stop on its own. With Pilot Assist, it helps you handle bumper-to-bumper traffic more easily. If the lines on the road are visible to its camera system and radar detects a car in front of you, it will follow that car at speeds of 25 MPH or lower. If traffic starts to speed up, it will disengage or you can disable it with a light tap on the gas pedal.

Other connectivity features run off the system’s own SIM card, and you can connect devices to its own Wi-Fi system just as you would to your home network. (Yes, that can eat up a lot of data on anybody’s plan, but…) Remote starting from your cell phone is handy, and the ability to track your mileage on your phone and download the information to an appropriate app is a great convenience.

For those of you who are familiar with all the features of your iPhone, Apple Car Play gives you a lot of same features and capabilities for your phone, maps, messaging and music. I can speak an address or the name of a store or restaurant into Siri, and Google Maps will activate with directions.

If you are using the car’s navigation system and talking on the phone, you don’t have to worry about directions drowning out your conversation or missing a turn. The system emits two tones to alert you that a turn is coming.

One other Apple Car Play feature is the unlimited number of phone numbers it can store. Our old car had a system that only stored 1000 phone numbers. If you have a contact base and two phone numbers for each contact, for example, you would only be able to access the first 500 contacts. This is a huge upgrade. Software updates are delivered automatically.

You can read more and see videos about its features and how they work. You can also find a list of cars that have Apple Car Play or will have it soon. We love its seamless operation. If you’re thinking about a new car this year, consider one that has Apple Car Play. If you have any questions, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can also help you with the complexities of setting it up, but that will require an on-site visit.


Seniors and Scammers

People 60 years and older seem to be victimized more than any other group by scammers, whether they operate online or over the phone. While it’s always easy to let your guard down at any age, older people seem inclined to be more trusting when they get a phone call.

The rules for seniors apply to people of all ages. It starts with being an active listener and observer for three alarms.

The first alarm is visual as well as audible. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone systems are totally Internet based, and that allows any system owner to program a caller ID to appear as any phone number. It can be your local area code or an area code from anywhere in the US or the rest of the world. Scammers match a phone number to a name in a database, so it can even display a name that looks very normal with an unrelated phone number that looks normal. Sometimes, you’ll just see a string of random numbers. Be careful, and if something doesn’t sound right, disconnect the call. None of those phone numbers can be traced.

We live in a diverse society, so don’t take this second alarm the wrong way, but listen for an accent. A lot of scammers call from other countries because they can avoid a lot of laws in the US. If you hear an accent and something doesn’t sound right, don’t give the caller access to your computer or any other information and disconnect the call.

A third alarm is any caller who claims to be from Microsoft, some other large technology company or the IRS. Microsoft and the IRS, for example, will NEVER call you on the telephone to tell you there’s a problem with your computer or a tax return. Microsoft does all of its updates online through Microsoft update, and the IRS sends you a letter – by snail mail.

When it comes to the telephone, screen your calls. If the caller doesn’t leave a message, it’s just as well you didn’t talk them. If you get a call from someone who is NOT your IT consultant and who says he’s discovered a problem on your computer, hang up.

Also be careful of pop-up messages while you are surfing the web. Scammers can break through weak security measures on some websites or a hole in your security and insert a pop-up message. When you click a link on that message, they’ll make the screen look like your computer is infected. Then, they can offer you a repair or a service subscription while they gain access to your computer – allowing them to infect your computer or hold your data hostage.

Cybercrime is a fast-moving target. If you suspect something wrong, it might be best to shut down your computer and call us at 973-433-6676. We can discuss the best plan of action, which could a remote check of your system or an on-site visit. For non-emergencies, you can email us, too.