Last Week Tonight host John Oliver tackled Apple and the FBI’s duel over encryption as the main segment on his show last night. He played out cases for both sides before siding with Apple and creating a comical ad for the Cupertino company in its signature style explaining why encryption is important.
Oliver starts the segment by explaining what encryption is, what it protects and how it can be hacked before diving into the debate between Apple and the FBI, which centers around San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone. The segment first lays out the case for law enforcement, touching on Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Apple boycott, before spending a significant amount of time explaining why creating a backdoor for the government would be a bad idea.
The Last Week Tonight host explains that many critics of Apple’s stance on encryption don’t seem to understand how modern technology works and that Apple creating a key for this one case is a slippery slope, allowing government officials to approach Apple for other cases. Oliver notes that the encryption debate was waged two decades ago with the Clipper Chip, which allowed for encrypted communication with a backdoor for authorities. The project was abandoned after hacker Matt Blaze figured out how to shut down the authorities’ backdoor. “But decades later [authorities] seem to have convinced themselves that it can be done,” Oliver said.
Oliver then takes on Apple critics who say the company can figure it out due to its success at innovation, noting they may feel that way about “Apple’s magic powers” due to the way the Cupertino company markets it products. He points out that thinking Apple could create a backdoor and then have the ability to police that backdoor is unrealistic, mentioning that the company has had trouble with hackers in the past. Additionally, he says that Apple bending their encryption standards doesn’t matter due to the numerous third-party encryption alternatives that exist.
The host closes by saying that other countries, like Russia and China, are watching the debate play out, hoping that they, too, would be allowed a similar level of access to devices. Oliver says that the “legal tenuousness” of the FBI’s argument, the security risks, the impossibility of Apple enforcing backdoor-equipped encryption, the international fallout and the existence of third-party encryption apps is enough to “sway the most strident opinion.” Oliver then closes by showing a comical encryption ad the show made for Apple in the style of the company’s iPhone 6s ads.
Last Week Tonight’s segment comes the week after the feud between Apple and the FBI stepped up a notch, with the FBI accusing Apple of “deliberately” raising barriers to prevent law enforcement to access data on Apple devices. Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell called the claim an “unsupported, unsubstantiated effort to vilify Apple.” On Friday, President Barack Obama cautioned against taking an “absolutist” view on encryption.
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