Open letter to the tech industry: It’s time for a scorched earth policy

With the very public fight between the U.S. government and Apple Inc. over breaking open an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters, I would like to propose a somewhat unorthodox solution for Apple, as I believe its legal battle will be ultimately unsuccessful: comply with the government, and at the same time, provide this cracked software to the world. This would demonstrate to users that their phones are open to anyone, whether the American government, the Mob, the Russian government, the Chinese government, or some guy down the street. And in the interests of fairness, the whole American tech industry would need to do this as a form of protest against the government’s efforts to compromise Americans’ privacy and data. In effect, it would be a scorched earth policy. Publish information on security flaws in tech products across the gamut: everything from network routers to smartphone operating systems to smart TVs. If we demonstrate that the whole stack is compromised, it’ll show that there is no safe place to run to. If a user is going to be running software and hardware with backdoors, they deserve to know about them. This proposal, if taken, would prove disastrous to the American tech industry. But that’s been one of the points of this debate: U.S. competitiveness requires trustworthiness, so that any company across the globe can be confident that their secrets are safe with American software and hardware. Could this backfire? Yes. If a majority of Americans support the government having backdoor access (which I suspect is the case), the backlash against these companies for taking such drastic action could be overwhelming, and there could be legal attempts to force companies to shore up their products against criminal and foreign access, but allow American governmental access. Additionally, the government could presumably try tech company executives in court for supplying secrets to foreign nations by publishing such information. But as I believe that the courts will ultimately force Apple to comply with the government anyway, I believe this is the best proposal if we are to salvage strong crypto. I understand that these companies would be loath to deliberately destroy their products. I did note that it’s an unorthodox solution! But if we are to have any hopes of a future with strong crypto, crypto unencumbered with backdoors put in by anyone whether our governments or some other party, I believe it is the action which must be taken. Our country is in an election year, but on this issue I do not believe either party will stand against compromising strong crypto, and so we must demonstrate to the American people the results of compromise.