Roger McNamee defends Apple’s refusal to unlock iPhone for the FBI

Apple is right to reject the Justice Department’s requests to unlock the suspect’s iPhone in a December Navy base shooting, Roger McNamee told CNBC on Thursday.

“If they create a back door for law enforcement, they are actually creating a back door for everyone,” including criminals, “Squawk Alley’s online privacy activist said. “It also means that the government of China, the government of Russia, will have much easier ability to penetrate phones and this increases the threat for every smartphone user.”

McNamee invested in Amazon in the 1990s and later co-founded the private equity firm Elevation Partners, which invested over $ 200 million in Facebook a few years before the social network’s initial public offering in 2012.

However, in recent years, he has increasingly talked about Facebook and warned about the dangers of what he calls “surveillance capitalism”, a problematic phenomenon he attributes to the birth of Big Tech.

Last year, McNamee published a book called “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe”. In 2018, it also helped launch the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit organization aimed at combating technology addiction.

While it often relies on Facebook to manage user data, it has typically announced Apple as a lodge on user privacy issues, and has dismissed claims that it is a “thrill” for the company.

“Not everything in Apple is perfect,” he told the New Yorker in a December profile. “But as far as privacy is concerned, Tim Cook is really walking for the walk.” Cook is Apple’s CEO.

McNamee’s warning about the backdoors of smartphones creating a slippery slope comes two days after President Donald Trump slammed Apple for refusing to help the FBI unlock the suspected shooter’s iPhones at the Pensacola naval air station he left behind three Americans died last month.

Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr said the Cupertino, California-based company had not provided “substantial assistance” to unlock the alleged shooter’s two iPhones.

Apple replied that it had provided gigabytes of information to the authorities in connection with the Florida case. But he said he would resist and would not create a “backdoor” or specialized software to provide the authorities with high access.

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantial assistance in Pensacola’s investigations. Our responses to their numerous inquiries since the attack have been timely, thorough and ongoing,” said Apple in its statement.

Apple was involved in an FBI showdown in 2016, when the Justice Department sued to gain access to a phone used by Syed Farook, who was responsible for the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, who caused 14 people to die. The stalemate ended when the FBI found an unidentified private vendor to violate the security of the phone.

McNamee said that the Justice Department’s argument for Apple to unlock the suspected shooter Pensacola’s devices was “very weak”, arguing that there is not much on the phones that law enforcement cannot get by other means.

“We live in this period of surveillance capitalism. Everything you do on your phone touches the net in some way,” he said.

“To the extent that they are trying to track down who met this shooter, where the shooter was at any time … all these things exist in the environment,” he added. “It is easily accessible to law enforcement agencies with a warrant.”

While there may be some things like photos on the phone that cannot be accessed in any other way, “as a generalization, I think Apple’s position on this is exactly correct,” McNamee concluded.


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