Sen. Tom Cotton vs. Apple CEO Tim Cook on encryption.

tom cotton2It’s an interesting debate, although ‘debate’ is often not a good word to use when one person has rely on a measurable fraction of the Internet being your cheering section, and the other person has a similar soft power involving the American government*.  To very briefly sum up: Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t want to give the American government back-door access to Apple products, because then he’d be maybe giving everybody else back-door access to Apple products, too**. [mc_name name=’Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001095′ ]’s response is pretty much equally forthright: terrorists can read, so they know that Apple has government-proof encryption, so they’re going to use those products to plan out more attacks.

The thing here is, both men have a point. ‘Back doors’ sound all nice and romantic in a movie, but in real life they’re a security nightmare for companies and sometimes a legal one as well. There are indeed a lot of horrible people out there who will illicitly use what’s essentially a deliberate hole to mess with other people’s stuff, data, and credit card numbers. And, truth be told; the federal government does not exactly currently fill me with confidence that they’re going to play nice with this access, either.

But… terrorists use encryption.  The shooter at that failed terrorist operation at Garland, Texas last summer used encryption that we still haven’t cracked in some of his messages – and it would be very helpful if we cracked that encryption, because then we could maybe get our hands on the people that want to shoot rooms full of Americans. The Paris strikes raise that point further… and while Tim Cook may think that we can have both privacy and national security (one hopes), there’s also the stubborn little point that not everybody is going to think that the occasional successful terrorist operation is simply the price you pay for keeping everybody’s encryption secure.

And one of those people is [mc_name name=’Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001095′ ], who is by the way a Harvard Law School graduate and combat veteran (Iraq and Afghanistan) who did counterinsurgency work while deployed during his second tour***.  So don’t assume that the Senator can’t talk about this effectively. Or that he’s got a sense of humor about it, either.

Moe Lane

*Senators can ruin your whole day. Particularly in the last year of a Presidential administration; nobody in the bureaucracy quite knows what the score is, so better safe than sorry.

**He also probably doesn’t want a Presidential administration – especially the next administration – in particular to have that kind of access.

***Elections matter.