INSKEEP: One last thing, coming back to this San Bernardino case, we don't know what's in that iPhone. We don't even know if it's important. But let's spin out the worst case scenario as a prosecutor might. Suppose your side wins, that phone is never opened, and as a result, the government misses a chance to find some other suspect and disrupt some attack. The attack goes forward, and people are killed. Will that have been worth it in order to protect encryption?Surman, probably flabbergasted that anyone should ask such a question, changed the subject
SURMAN: We need to find ways to really be able to seek communications before they're sent or after they're sent and actually work with law enforcement on doing this well. There are alternative ways to get information, getting access to it before or after it's encrypted. What we want to avoid is creating a precedent where encryption can be broken by an arbitrary third party.But Inskeep kept at it
INSKEEP: So you're saying, in essence, it may well be harder to catch terrorists, but you can still work at it, and the extra difficulty is worth it.Remember, this is cloyingly liberal NPR, not some foaming at the mouth right wing program!
Like Surman, I often am too polite to give the right answer to such shocking questions in real time. But with the benefit of hindsight, here's a better answer
COCHRANE: Well, come to think of it, you're right there Steve. And while you're at it, let's keep going. These pesky first and fourth amendments sure get in the way of law enforcement, don't they? I mean all this business about going out and getting warrants, and waiting for a judge is so time consuming. If a terrorist gets away while you're busy getting a warrant, and people are killed, will that really have been worth it to protect some sort of centuries old procedures? If someone stirs up trouble on a Jihadi website, why do we have to allow that? And this annoying business about grand juries, and presenting evidence, and discovery, and Miranda warnings, it's so burdensome. What if some terrorist gets away and kills someone? The police surely should be allowed to just throw anyone suspicious in jail, to make sure they don't do anything bad. Heck, while you're at it, what's with these prohibitions against torture? Bring back the rack, or start chopping people's fingers off until they talk. If you hold back, and some terrorist kills someone, was your little sense of ethics really worth it?There is a reason we have all these protections. There is a reason we need to defend them even in times of turmoil.
Perhaps a President Hillary Clinton will bring a sympathetic ear to the right to digital privacy. She undoubtedly wishes her email had been bullet-proof encrypted, not just from the FBI and NSA, but from the Chinese and Russian hackers likely reading every line.
Update: I realize from some of the comments that the point may not have been clear. This isn't about the Apple decision. It's moot, really, anyway, as even Apple can't open the new Iphones. And one can make cost/benefit arguments either way. My point was about the argument: We will hear quite often in coming years and decades, the argument that even one terrorist caught is worth sacrificing privacy and civil liberty. Be prepared to answer, to point out there are costs as well as benefits, and to list what they are. And, finally, I sound more critical of Inskeep than I should. In fairness, he does not offer an opinion. He asks a question, one commonly asked, and may well have been floating a t-ball in the hope Surman would smash it out of the park as I attempted to do. Many people will ask that question. It's worth asking, over and over, and rehearsing the answer.