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

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

“If they create a backdoor for law enforcement, they are effectively creating a backdoor for everyone,” including criminals, said the online privacy activist at “Squawk Alley.” “It also means that the Chinese government, the Russian government, will have much easier capabilities to penetrate the phones and that increases the threat to all smartphone users.”

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

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

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

While he frequently criticizes Facebook for its handling of user data, in general, he described Apple as a star in user privacy issues, and rejected claims that it is a “shill” for the company.

“Not everything at Apple is perfect,” he told The New Yorker in a December profile. “But when it comes to privacy, Tim Cook is really walking.” Cook is Apple’s CEO.

McNamee’s warning about the back doors of smartphones that create a slippery slope comes two days after President Donald Trump criticized Apple for refusing to help the FBI unlock the iPhones of the alleged shooter at the Naval Air Station of Pensacola that left three Americans dead last month.

Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr said the company based in Cupertino, California, had not provided “substantive assistance” to unlock the two iPhones of the alleged shooter.

Apple responded by saying that it had provided gigabytes of information to the authorities regarding the Florida case. But he said he would stand firm and not build a “backdoor” or specialized software to give law enforcement authorities high access.

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the investigation of Pensacola. Our responses to its many requests since the attack have been timely, comprehensive and ongoing,” Apple said in its statement.

Apple participated in a confrontation with the FBI in 2016, when the Justice Department sued for access to a phone used by Syed Farook, responsible for the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which left 14 dead. The confrontation ended when the FBI found an unidentified private seller to break the security of the phone.

McNamee said the Justice Department’s argument for Apple to unlock the devices of the alleged Pensacola shooter was “very weak,” claiming that there is very little on the phones that the police cannot obtain by other means.

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

“To the extent that they are trying to track who this shooter was with, where the shooter was at any time … all that exists in the environment,” he added. “It is easily accessible to the police with a court order.”

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

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