In Apple vs. the FBI, There Is No Technical Middle Ground

Policymakers say they want a compromise on law enforcement access to smartphones, but legal and technical experts say it’s tough to discern what that might look like in practice. Put simply, they say any process that makes it possible for a company to decrypt an encrypted phone—like the method the FBI advocates in its standoff with Apple over a dead terrorist’s iPhone—will inevitably be shared and make encryption less meaningful, breaking down trust and security.

The U.S. Congress is already weighing what to do. A commission proposed last week by Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, would aim to generate “viable recommendations on how to balance competing digital security priorities.” Modeled on the panel Congress formed to investigate the security and intelligence flaws that led up to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the panel would include law enforcement officials, cryptographers, and representatives of technology companies.

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