86.5% of Americans use a cell phone. When you purchased your phone, you most likely believed you owned it outright, just as you own your toaster, your electric razor, or your hair dryer. The device in your purse or pocket, however, is not your own–you are essentially renting it from companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. Once you purchase an Apple product, for example, you relinquish control of the device, thereby giving up your legal rights to Apple.
How was this allowed to happen? By agreeing to the terms of service and upgrades, along with the proprietary software pre-installed on the phone, you married yourself to a machine that is essentially controlled by these companies. The news of the collusion and voluntary surrender of information to the NSA of our data, emails, and phone calls–all of which were collected whether or not the information was needed–is fresh in our memory.
It appears Apple, Google and Microsoft would like the American public to forget they voluntarily and summarily collected and offered up all of our data to the NSA in the name of national security post 9-11; now, they would like us to believe they are protecting our rights and our privacy by refusing to allow the FBI access to the phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack. While some believe Apple noble to not provide a bypass to the FBI, others are on the side of the government, thinking these companies should be doing whatever it takes to protect America. It is obvious, however, that both sides are missing the point.
We can use the only known legal precedent as an analogy. If you have a safe that requires a key to unlock it, a warrant is legally required to force the holder of that key to turn it over, thus gaining access to the contents of the safe. If, however, you have a combination safe, you can claim the 5th amendment, and no warrant, no court, can compel you to incriminate yourself, extracting the combination from your brain.
That same logic can be applied to the Apple v FBI case. Apple has the key to your phone, by controlling the operating system. Apple can, at any time, circumvent the security features that are supposed to protect you by simply upgrading the operating system.
Think of it this way: If you stay in a hotel, you are renting a room. When you check in, you are given a key to access that room; the hotel still has a master key. Apple is the hotel, and your phone is the room. You are renting it from Apple and they can come in, clean, look around, divulge, steal, expose your information, or not.
You don’t actually own your phone. If we truly owned our phones, court ordered warrants would be served directly to the owner of the phone. The warrants in the case of Apple v FBI were served to Apple, who actually has control of your phone.
The legal issue of whether Apple must give up the key, whether through legal maneuvering around the First Amendment, or an act of Congress, avoids the larger issue of control: if Apple loses this legal battle, all phones, tablets, and computing devices that are under the control of a company are then legally bound to comply with a warrant to give up the key that controls your device. If Apple, or any organization, controls your device, you are giving your legal rights over to that organization.
But if you control your device, there is no master key. Only you have the combination under your control, and never have to relinquish that control. This is the ultimate in security and privacy.
The discussion about whether or not Apple should be compelled to give up the master key is missing the larger point, that Apple should never have had the key to begin with. It is possible to control your device by using free software. With Purism products and the free software that comes with it, you own and control your device. Purism will never be issued a warrant to force us to give up anything relating to your device. Purism doesn’t control the products we sell—you do.