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How Can Identity Politics Be Safely De-Emphasized?   2 comments

The Democrats received a real drubbing this last election.  They lost the presidency, the House, the Senate, a majority of governorships and a majority of state legislatures.  29% of Hispanics voted for Trump, as did a strong majority of white women.

One idea that has been floated a lot is that liberals should tone down the identity politics.  This has met with fierce objections that this would be tantamount to complete surrender to “white supremacy” and homophobia.  In this article I will address how we can tone down the excesses of the social justice movement with the least compromise to the interests of minorities and unpopular groups.

Central to this essay is the “social justice” world view.  It is a world view in which individuals don’t have rights except through membership in groups, and groups have rights in proportion to which they are classified as having been somehow “victimized” in some way.  The opposite of a group being in a “victim” class is a group being in a “privileged” class.  Not only does being in a “privileged” group bring no rights with it at all, “privileged” groups are to be downright vilified and blamed for all of everyone else’s problems.

Identity Politics Provoke, Rather Than Prevent, Hate Crimes

Hate crimes are a law enforcement problem.  The perpetrators are idiots and criminals who are immensely unpopular, and the laws on the books carry extremely severe penalties.  We have police to deal with these acts if they extend beyond expressing opinions.  It is extremely unlikely that anyone will move to strike down hate crime laws and if anybody tries we just have to vigorously resist that.  This essay is assuming that hate crimes are not going to amount to more than a few anecdotal violent incidents, a few philistines shouting slurs, and a few naughty kids spray painting swastikas here and there, and not enough of any of these things to affect the average person’s daily life, although on the rare occasions when such things do occur they will get a huge amount of press attention by liberals eager to cast the election of Donald Trump as the end of the world.

An important thing to remember is that when some juvenile idiot spray paints an anonymous swastika somewhere, the motivation is probably a desire to push back against the excesses of identity politics.

Prioritize Which Rights Protected Classes Need Most to Keep

We should try to maintain, and continue to advance, protections against job discrimination.  That is one of the most important things that a minority or group needs in order to get by.

As I understand it, gays and transsexuals may still lose their jobs in many states.  During the election, Trump said he was pro-LGTB rights.  Whether he will consider that binding is anybody’s guess, but the chances are fairly good that if federal congress tries to undermine LGTB rights, he will veto it.

Free Speech: No One Should Be Above Criticism, No One Should Be Beneath Defense

An important part of how a democracy conducts itself is that there must be open public debate. Statements should be evaluated strictly according to two criteria — whether they are true, and whether they are relevant and constructive.

Identity politics conflicts with this. To a social justice warrior, far more central is whether a statement is “punching up” or “punching down”. Any statement criticizing a “victim” party that is made by a relatively “privileged” party is “punching down” and therefore automatically wrong, regardless of whether it is true, relevant, and constructive. The opposite, “punching up” is always to be commended, and any attempt by a member of a “privileged” group to defend themselves against such atacks, however unfounded they were, is promoting “white supremacy”, or “sexism”, and therefore automatically wrong.

Thus, according to the SJW’s, to be in a “victim” class is to be above criticism, and to be in a “privileged” class is to be beneath self-defense.

The “privileged” are not completely lacking in virtue, and the “victims” are not completely without fault. It is in the public interest for debate to be able to reflect reality, so these restrictions on speech are intolerable.

Rights Should be Based on Individuals, Not Groups

In Martin Luther King’s famous speech, he said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.“.

The current SJW movement has been pushing us in exactly the opposite direction — we have been arriving in a world where the central core of everyone’s identity is their group membership, with what they’ve actually achieved in their lives being a distant, secondary consideration.

Promoting the SJW world view that rights, especially the right to free speech, were not inalienable rights of all individuals, but rather, belonged to groups, and only certain groups, where specifically the group representing the largest voting block in the country had no rights at all, was not a politically stable situation.  It was inevitable that eventually someone would run against this world view and win.

Burden of Proof, Part I: “He’s a Bigot”

One tactic that the SJW’s have pursued is making the accusation of “bigotry” very frequently, usually on the basis of unbelievably flimsy evidence.  Once any “privileged” person has been accused of “bigotry”, the only way to make a denial that is taken seriously at all is to have extensive credentials as having been a SJW themselves.

These accusations flew so far and wide, with so little justification, that basically every white Republican in the country, if not every non-SJW, had been tarred with the brush, especially when Hillary was quoted as dismissing most Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables”.  When you call someone a “bigot” and they don’t think it’s true, they’re not going to listen to you when you make the charge against others.  The SJW’s had been calling “wolf” so often, and for so long, that they had completely lost credibility with a very, very large share of the voters.

Burden of Proof, Part II: “Dog Whistles” and “Coded Racism”

If someone expresses alarm about too many people abusing the social safety net, they are not necessarily talking about blacks.  There are more whites on welfare than blacks.  But any discussion of abuse of the social safety gets met with immediate accusations of “dog whistle politics” or “coded racism” from the SJW’s, so that the issue, and many others like it, cannot be discussed with the SJW’s present, which means it cannot get discussed in the public media.  This does not mean these problems don’t exist, and don’t warrant being discussed.

Any time any form of dysfunctional behavior is brought up, the SJW’s shut down the debate with gratuitous accusation of “coded racism”.  And dysfunctional behavior is rampant.  40% of the children being born in the country today, of all races averaged together, are out of wedlock.  Raising a child properly is a daunting task for two people with two incomes, it’s drastically harder for one person alone.  This is an epidemic and a recipe for disaster, and thanks to the SJW’s, it’s hardly discussed.

It’s overwhelmingly in the interest of society that we be able to talk about our problems, and what we can do to address them.

Burden of Proof, Part III: Discrimination is not the Only Possible Cause of Differences in Outcomes Between Groups

There are many differences between different groups.  Ethnic groups all have cultural differences.  Men & women have different instincts.  A difference in outcomes between two groups may or may not reflect discrimination.

Elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female.  This doesn’t prove that elementary school principals are sexist against hiring males.  It may just reflect an intrinsic difference between men and women, where women are more likely to want to spend all day surrounded by little kids.

Men and women have different arrest rates for violent crime.  This doesn’t prove unwarranted bias against males by cops.  While cops are probably more suspicious of males than females, the difference in conviction rates probably just reflects the fact that men are more violent than women.

Younger men are convicted of street crime at a higher rate than older men.  This doesn’t prove unwarranted bias against the young by cops.  While cops are probably more suspicious of young men than old, the difference in conviction rates may well reflect maturation of the brain, which continues into the late twenties, and the fact that older men have had more time to learn that street crime doesn’t pay.

These suggestions aren’t going to make life intolerable for anybody, would result in fewer voters being alienated from the Democratic Party, public debate that is able to face our problems squarely and realisticaly, and as a result, a healthier society.

Posted December 11, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Foreign ETF’s List   Leave a comment

If you want to sell all your US equities before Trump destroys the US economy, here is a list of non-US ETF’s you can move your money to. All are traded on American stock exchanges.  The first ones listed are in the developed world, the last 3 are emerging markets.

DXJ WisdomTree Japan Hedge EQ     link Japan: 100%
EWJ iShares MSCI Japan ETF     link Japan: 100%
HEDJ WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity    link Fr: 27% Ger: 26% Spa: 18% Neth: 13% Belg:7% Finland: 5%
EZU iShares MSCI Eurozone ETF    link Fr: 32% Ger: 30% Neth: 10% Spa: 10% It: 6% Belg: 5% Finland 3%
DBEF Deutsche X-trackers MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity ETF    link Jap: 24% UK: 19% Fr: 10% Ger: 9% Switz: 9% Australia: 7% HK 3%
SCZ iShares MSCI EAFE Small-Cap ETF    link Jap: 31% UK: 18% Australia: 7% Ger: 6% Sweden: 5% Switz: 5%
EFA iShares MSCI EAFE ETF    link Jap: 24% UK: 19% Fr: 10% Ger: 9% Switz: 9% Australia: 7% HK: 3%
IEFA iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF link Jap: 25% UK: 19% Fr: 9% Ger: 9% Switzh: 9% Australia: 7% HK: 3%
SCHF Schwab International Equity ETF    link Jap: 22% UK: 17% Fr: 8% Ger: 8% Switz: 8% Can: 7% Australia: 6% SKor: 4%
VEA Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets
ETF    link
Jap: 22% UK 17% Fr: 8% Ger: 8% Switz: 8% Australia: 6% Can: 6% Skor: 4%
VEU Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US Index Fund    link Jap: 18%  UK: 14% Fr: 7% Ger: 6% Switz:
6% Australia: 5% Can: 5% China: 4% HK: 4% SKor: 3%
VGK Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF    link Jap: 31% Fr: 14% Ger: 14% Switz: 14% Swe: 5% Spa: 5% Neth: 4% It: 3% Den: 3%
VXUS Vanguard Total International Stock ETF    link(ex-US) Jap: 18% UK 14% Fr: 6% Ger: 6% Switz: 6% Australia: 5% Can: 5% China: 4% HK: 4% SKor: 4%
EFAV iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol EAFE ETC    link Jap: 29% UK: 23% Switz: 12% HK: 9% Australia: 6% Fr: 5% Ger: 4% Sing: 4% Israel: 2%
VWO Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF    link Chi: 23% Taiw: 15% India: 12% Brazil: 9%
SAfr: 7% HK: 6% Mexico: 4% Malay: 4% Russ: 4% Thai: 3%
IEMG iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF    link Chi: 21% SKor: 15% Taiw: 13% India: 9% Braz: 7% SAfr: 6% HK: 5% Mexico: 4% Russ: 3% Malay: 3%
EEM iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF    link Chi: 21% SKor: 15% Taiw: 12% India: 9% Braz: 8% SAfr: 6% HK: 5% Mexico: 4% Russ: 4% Malay: 3%

Posted November 9, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Police, Race, and Instinct   2 comments

Police officers do a lot of their work based on instinct.  When they encounter a person, they have to very quickly make an estimation of whether the person warrants further attention as a potential criminal, and, more importantly, whether the person presents a threat to the officer.

If a cop has been working for decades, they have encountered thousands of people, and developed instincts about which ones, based on their appearance, stance, manner of expressing themselves, and facial expression, are likely to be a problem.  Cops don’t have time to fill out a written checklist, assign points to certain traits, and add up an impartial, objective score.  They must use their instincts to size someone up in seconds.

And it is not humanly possible, the way American society is today, for someone’s instincts to be race-blind.  The law even provides much harsher penalties, under some circumstances, for crimes against a different race than for crimes against one’s own.  We have deliberately made our country into a place where being race-blind is a very dangerous proposition.  And for a cop, dealing with the subject of crime — there are huge differences in crime rates between different races.  To ask a cop to somehow develop instincts that are race-blind in a context where they observe radically different crime rates for different races is not reasonable.  And it’s not reasonable to expect a cop to ignore their instincts.

  • Perpetrators of Violent Crime by Race (In cases where the race of the perpetrators is known, White and Black only): White: 66%, Black: 34% (source: US Department of Justice)
  • Population by Race (White and Black only): White: 85.2%, Black: 14.8% (source: Wikipedia)
  • Score in Proportion to Likelihood of One Person Being a Perpetrator, by Race: White: 66/85.2 = 0.77, Black: 34/14.8 = 2.31

So a black person that a cop encounters on the street is 3 times more likely than a white person to be a violent perpetrator.  Is it realistic to expect a cop to work for years and not notice that?  Even subconsciously?

Do I believe the Black Lives Matter protestors when they claim that cops are treating blacks worse than whites? Absolutely. It makes perfect sense. What can we do about it? I’m not sure.

Posted July 16, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Free Speech and Criticism of Israel   Leave a comment

Public debate in the US is highly polarized, with two camps, conservative and liberal, who increasingly dislike even engaging with each other in debate.

The two camps have different rules about free speech. Conservatives:

  • Have a low tolerance for profanity.
  • Feel that there are some “sacred” symbols, such as the flag and religious symbols, that should not be “desecrated”, and
  • Are uncomfortable with the explicit discussion of sex.

Banning profanity is not too onerous a limitation on free speech, it is generally possible to express any important idea without using profanity.  Desecration of “sacred” symbols, similarly, is usually a childish way to get your point across, and is not really a necessary means to express important ideas.  The limitation on the discussion of sex is the most harmful of these limitations, as it manifests itself in “abstinence education”, rather than proper sex education, in many red states, which is widely observed to result in higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD’s in those states.

Conservatives believe strongly in inalienable individual rights, sometimes taken to extremes.  This assumption pervades their whole ideology, in both speech and economics.  What is permissible for one person is permissible for any other.

Some liberals believe strongly in free speech.  Most liberals have no problem with profanity, the desecration of symbols, or the explicit discussion of sex.

But there is a very influential faction within the liberal camp, the Social Justice Warriors.  The SJW’s don’t believe that individuals have rights, only groups have rights.  Something permissible for a person in one group may be taboo for someone in another group.  And speech rights, especially when discussing groups, are totally dependent upon group membership.

In the extreme SJW world view, groups exist on a continuum ranging from “victim” groups to “privileged” groups.  In any conflict between two individuals, regardless of what actually transpired, the person whose group membership is more toward the “victim” end of the scale is automatically right, and the member of the more “privileged” group is automatically wrong.  This means that members of extreme “privileged” classes have no rights, and members of extreme “victim” classes are completely above criticism.

While the SJW world view is more prevalent in American society than it ever has been, the shadow of it has existed in American society for a long time.  After the Nazi holocaust, Jews were considered so far toward the “victim” end of the scale that they were above criticism in polite society for over half a century.  This was exacerbated by the fact that the Palestinians were spectacularly inept at making their case to the American public.

Observe this exchange:  Prof Norman Finkelstein is comparing Israel’s wrongs against the Palestinians to Nazi Germany, which is preposterous.  If the Israeli government were 10% as bad as Nazi Germany, every Arab in Palestine would have been killed or driven out decades ago to make room for Jewish settlements.  The girl in the video is not making the point that what he is saying is absurd, but is rather making the point the he has no right to criticize Israel, because Jews have so many “victim points”.  His response, similarly, is not so much to address the merits of what he is saying, but to point out that his parents were Nazi holocaust survivors, and therefore he (who as an individual has probably never met a Nazi in his life) has, through group membership, enough “victim points” to have the right to speak.

Probably 0.3% of the American population is descended from survivors of the Nazi holocaust.  Would it be a good thing if the other 99.7% of the country were not permitted, in polite company, to criticize Israel?

Last year, the Israeli government and its American lobby threw their full weight into derailing the nuclear deal with Iran.  We had 3 options with Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

  1. Do nothing and let them get the bomb.
  2. Go to war with Iran to destroy their nuclear facilities (which are buried underground so they can’t be taken out by air strikes) and either effect regime change or go back every few years to prevent them from rebuilding their nuclear capabilities after we’ve destroyed them, or
  3. Make a nuclear treaty with them.

The Israeli government is against option 3.  It’s a safe bet they are against option 1.  So basically, this means the Israeli government and its American lobby are using all their formidable influence on the US to try to make us go to war with Iran.  In the meantime, any American politician, like former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who dares to even mention the existence of the Jewish lobby is seriously risking their career.

The war we waged against Iraq was more than we could handle.  Iran has twice the population of Iraq, and twice the GDP.   Iraq was flat, easy fighting for us.  Iran is mountainous, good terrain for an insurgency.   Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who hadn’t held a multi-candidate election for many years, and was despised by everybody in his country except for the Sunni Arab minority.  The Iranian government has semi-democratic elections every few years, and as a result enjoys much more legitimacy and popular support than Saddam Hussein did, and as a result, the Iranians will resent and resist any new regime we impose upon them much more vigorously than the Iraqis fought against the government we imposed there.

Our invasion of the brutal Iraqi dictatorship was disastrous for America’s reputation, credibility, and prestige worldwide.  What reason is there to believe that invading a much more legitimate, semi-democratic state would be better received by the global audience?

Going to war with Iran would be extremely difficult, not to mention probably catastrophic, and all Americans should be free to express their opinions on whether it’s a good idea, and free to criticize anyone who advocates for it, regardless of how many “victim” points they do or do not have.

Even if the social justice movement continues to wield so much influence, the days of Israel’s exemption from criticism in polite American society are clearly numbered.  There are many Muslim students on college campuses who, while subscribing the the SJW viewpoint, feel that they have more “victim” points than Jews, and many other SJW’s agree with them.  I don’t entirely follow the logic, but I never found the SJW’s to be outstanding pillars of rationality to begin with.  And this year we had Bernie Sanders, a major presidential candidate, express an opinion of Israel other than unconditional support, without it meaning the end of his campaign.  It was the first time I’ve seen that happen since I was old enough to read the news, a Gentile candidate never could have gotten away with it, and to my knowledge the taboo phrase “Jewish lobby” never escaped his lips, but it is probably a harbinger of what’s to come.

My position is that the whole Social Justice Warrior world view is entirely bogus.  People should have the inalienable right to free speech regardless of how “privileged” they are, and statements should be evaluated on their merit, absolutely without regard to the group membership of who is making them, or the “victim” status of those being discussed.  The marketplace of ideas can hardly be expected to reach accurate conclusions with so many limitations on who is allowed to say what.

Posted June 25, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

The Unacceptability of the Future   Leave a comment

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, has a written a book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, which documents how humans, over the centuries and millennia, have become steadily less violent, and the famous skeptic Michael Shermer has written another book, “The Moral Arc”, with largely the same theme.

And generally, if we look back in time, we observe that peoples’ values became steadily more like our own.  Some of us call this “progress”.

But many people go on to the next step, and assume they can predict the future.  They describe those with whom they disagree as “on the wrong side of history”, as though the speaker had inside knowledge as to which way things were going to go.

Let’s see how people in the past would see the present:

    • In the US, church attendance currently varies from about 25% to about 45%, depending upon the state, and in most of Europe, it’s lower still.  Many people are openly atheist.  If you told people 200 years ago that that was how things would turn out, they would have been absolutely horrified.
    • 60 years ago, over 90% of Americans believed that it was morally wrong for people who were engaged but not yet married to sleep together. Now, few people wait for marriage before having sex. And the consequences of this are pretty ugly — 25% of American adults have genital herpes, and 40% of babies in this country are born out of wedlock (which is probably related to the fact that a fifth of American children are raised in poverty). Are you sure that people from the past would see this as “progress”, rather than moral decay?
    • If you went back 300 years, and told a European that in the year 2000, there wouldn’t be a monarch in the continent who wielded any real power, and that in most countries, the head of state was usually spoken of with outright contempt by at least 30% of the population at any given time, they would find the prospect extremely disturbing.
    • If you told people 200 years ago that homosexuals would be legally allowed to marry, that New York City law would impose a fine of a several years’ wages on anyone who wilfully and maliciously referred to a transvestite by a gender pronoun other than that which the person preferred, and that, in some states, bakeries that refused to bake cakes for gay weddings would be heavily fined, they would not see it as “progress”, but rather as wanton depravity and confusion.
    • 100 years ago, only the poorest wives had jobs.  If you told people then that in the 21st century most wives, not just the poorest ones, worked, even if they had very young children, and that as a result many if not most mothers had tremendous difficulty finding enough time to spend with their kids, would they see this development as an anything but a deterioration of the quality of life?
    • Around 1970, there was a tremendous consensus on college campuses that capitalism was on the way out.  Many felt the economic model of the Warsaw Pact was preferable to that of the West.  Most people didn’t have the slightest grasp of micro-economic theory.  In 1979, when there was a revolution in Iran, causing a shortage of oil, gasoline prices were tightly regulated by the government, resulting in very long lines and sometimes fuel being unavailable at any price.  Any suggestion that the government allow gasoline prices to rise to reflect scarcity and encourage conservation was considered unacceptable because of the impact on the poor.  Anyone who declared themselves “pro free market” was definitely considered “on the wrong side of history”.  If you went back forty years and told those liberals that the Warsaw Pact had abandoned socialism and that most of the American Democratic Party had, for several decades at least, embraced free market economics, they would have disbelieved it as a thought too horrible to contemplate.

So if we look at the present through the eyes of the past, we find that the future has been profoundly unacceptable.  How can we be so sure that the future ahead of us will not be equally unacceptable when viewed in terms of our current values and biases?  My feeling is that it probably will be.

Posted March 27, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

How Not to Donate Money   Leave a comment

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and soon after pretty much all of the Warsaw Pact decided that they were going to be capitalist and democratic.  It seemed like a miracle.

I felt there were bound to be some growing pains involved in the transition, and it was very much in the self-interest of the US for their experiment with freedom to be a successful one.  To that end, I felt that we should send massive aid to the countries of the former Warsaw Pact.

The US government was giving $1-2 billion a year, which I felt was just a drop in the bucket, totally insufficient.  In 1995 I had personally had a lucrative year and decided to donate some money of my own to that end.

So I decided to donate over 5% of my job income, several thousand dollars.

I had the money, I felt giving it would be easy, just a matter of finding the nearest appropriate do-gooder and giving them the dough.  I found a local Russian Orthodox church in my yellow pages and called them up, asking if they knew of any organizations giving aid to Russia.  They said they’d call around.  They got back to me with contact information for a Russian Orthodox organization in San Francisco, 45 miles from where I lived.

I wrote out the check and mailed it to them.

They invited me to their annual banquet.  They were interested in finding out who this person was, with a non-Russian name, willing to give so much to their cause.  When they met me, they were really surprised that I, not having a drop of Russian blood in my veins, and being an atheist to boot, would give so much.

I learned that this organization was involved in 2 activities:

  • Sending care packages consisting of foodstuffs to poor people in Moscow.
  • Providing aid to recently arrived Russian immigrants in San Francisco.

Neither of these things were really achieving what I had in mind.  I suppose it’s good to help the poor, but I really wanted to help industries get going, help the Russian economy overall, which would be good for everybody in the country, including the poor.  And I didn’t want my money spent on people who had left Russia, I wanted to help the people who were still there.

Another thing is, I am not Russian Orthodox.  I am an atheist.  And the organization was clearly mixing a religious pitch in with their charity.  The poor people who received the care packages were sending letters talking about how they were “thanking God” for the help, something that was certainly not on my agenda.

And then there was the newsletter I was sent, which had an offhand remark about how, “unsurprisingly”, most of the donations came from religious people.

At the banquet, a woman sitting next to me told me I was lucky to have found their church.  There was another Russian Orthodox church across town that was trying to reinstate the Russian monarchy.

Later, I managed to look up where the $1-2 billion the US government was giving was targeted.  It was going to key industries, exactly the sort of recipients I had in mind.

Getting rid of money is easy.  But if you really want to make a difference in the world, it is necessary to do careful research first.

Posted March 25, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized

Apple’s Letter to the Public About Compromising Their Security   Leave a comment

February 16, 2016 A Message to Our Customers

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.
The Need for Encryption

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.
The San Bernardino Case

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
The Threat to Data Security

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.
A Dangerous Precedent

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

Posted February 17, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized