Fellows Hellman & Rivest & 44 Top Techs

By Hatti Hamlin

Apple iPhone Search “Undermines Security” & may be “Unconstitutional”

Marty Hellman, with colleague Whit Diffie, just won the $1M ACM Alan Turing Award. Ron Rivest won the Turing Award in 2002. After 40 years, their work (Diffie-Hellman, RSA) remains the foundation of practical cryptography. They’ve just signed on to the EFF brief “On the matter of the search of an Apple iPhone seized during the execution of a Search Warrant on a Black Lexus IS300 California License Plate 3KGD203.” That’s the FBI/Apple case in the headlines, crucial on the issues of privacy and security. 44 other prominent technologists also supported the brief.

The Amicus brief from the 46 technologists begins, “INTRODUCTION What the government blandly characterizes as a request for technical assistance raises one of the most serious issues facing the security of information technology: the extent to which manufacturers of secure devices like Apple can be conscripted by the government to undermine the security of those devices. Amici curiae submitting this brief have a special interest in helping this Court understand that its Order places a significant burden on the free speech rights of Apple and its programmers by compelling them to write code and then to use their digital signature to endorse that code to the FBI, their customers and the world. Apple’s code and digital signature, separately and together, affirm a commitment and belief regarding the authenticity of the code and the value of their customer’s privacy and security.

“The order compels Apple and its engineers to repudiate that belief, and undermine the very security they designed. In other contexts, compelled speech and affirmations of belief that substantially hinder the speaker’s ability to communicate its desired message are clearly unconstitutional. That the Order compels the speech and affirmation in code instead of prose does not change the result. The Order is unconstitutional, and thus not permissibly authorized by the All Writs Act.”

The NY Times today reported, “Companies and organizations, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Snapchat and Dropbox, are expected to jointly submit court briefs.” The issue of course goes beyond just the single case. Speaking at Columbia last year, Marconi vice-chair Vint Cerf warned about introducing backdoors into computer systems. His comments back then included, “We have been fighting things like this since the Clipper chip 20 years ago. All software has bugs despite decades of work. Introducing backdoors can create additional problems.”

These are not easy issues.

Hellman has just shared the one million dollar Turing Award with Diffie for his cryptography work. He works “to create a more peaceful, sustainable world — a goal we’ve been working on for 35 years,” and is donating his award.

Rivest remains prominent in the public discussion. He co-authored, with Diffie and others, the important 2015 paper, “Keys under doormats: mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications.” He was a signer of the 2014 “Open Letter from US Researchers in Cryptography and Information Security Media” That letter warned of the danger “surveillance poses to privacy, democracy, and the US technology sector.”

Georgia Tech’s Dick Lipton reports Rivest’s, “Main interest these days is e-voting. He is involved in the issue of how to make electronic voting trustworthy. In particular he had is working on audits of electronic voting, which seems to be a very important idea. Ron also urged the audience–thousands of people—to help him get officials of all kinds to not use Internet based voting.”