Former FBI Official Michael Mason on Apple: To Provide a ‘Free-Fire Communication Zone For Criminals’ Is Unwise

Michael Mason retired from the FBI as the Executive Assistant Director-Criminal Branch at headquarters.

Mike Mason/fbi photo
Mike Mason/fbi photo

By Michael Mason

This is an interesting issue because I don’t believe one can come down in the middle of this debate.  That would be akin to believing a woman can be little bit pregnant.

This is an either-or decision.  Either we are going to give pedophiles, drug lords, organized crime syndicates, fraudsters, hacktivists and a host of others a virtual free-fire communication zone or we are not.

The ability to intercept communications existed until these new applications were developed, so it’s not as though the government is seeking a new authority rather than the ability to maintain the status quo.  This conversation often gets postured as giving the government unilateral authority to intercept conversations without meeting the bar of evidence required to conduct such interceptions.

When phrases such as “back doors” are used, it makes it sound as if the government’s objectives are nefarious and seek to skirt the law and I do not believe that is the government’s objective.  Any authority can be abused and when that happens, it must be addressed swiftly and severely.

However, to provide a free-fire communication zone for criminals to operate strikes me as unwise.  I would not want to provide criminals with any platforms or resources enabling them to ply their criminal trades without fear of law enforcement intervention.

We should not arm criminals in any manner that cannot be adequately addressed by law enforcement.  Americans will be quick to blame the law enforcement and intelligence communities the next time we are visited by a large scale tragedy.  There will be howls of what both communities missed that led to the tragedy.

Absolute security and absolute privacy simply cannot co-exist in the same environment.  We can put in appropriate safeguards to help prevent abuses, but no guarantees can be made that the existence of decryption keys won’t fall into the wrong hands.

This is a cost-benefit question.  Does the risk to security caused by offering the bad guys the aforementioned free-fire zone outweigh the benefit of creating an uber-privacy zone that will….absolutely will be abused by criminals and terrorists?  It’s time we had an adult conversation with the American public regarding this subject and stop letting ignorance of the law lead the debate.


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