To Clarify the Debate, Tim Cook Should Start Shopping for Land in Cork, Ireland

There’s so much blathering from National Security and plain old pundits about FBI’s demand that Apple’s programmers write it a custom operating system that I think, to facilitate reasonable debate, Tim Cook should travel to Cork, Ireland (where Apple already has a presence) and start shopping for land for a new headquarters.

I say this not because my spouse and I are Irish (though the Irish spouse insists that Cork is the Irish equivalent of Texas), and not because I want Apple to take all its Silicon Valley jobs and move them to Ireland, and not because Apple has already been using Ireland as a tax haven, but because it would be the best way to get people who otherwise seem to misunderstand the current state of the world on encryption to better think it through.

FBI’s problem with Apple is that the company tries to offer its users around the globe the strongest possible security as a default option. Plenty of other companies (like Android) offer less perfect security.  Plenty of other apps offer security. Some (like Signal) may even offer better security, but relying on devices (Android phones and desktops) that themselves may be insecure. But the problem with Apple is that all its more recent phones are going to be harder (though not impossible, unless law enforcement fucks up when they first seize the phone, as they did here) to access by default.

Thus far, however, Apple still serves as a valuable law enforcement partner — something lots of the pundits have ignored. Before the All Writs Act order on February 16, Apple had turned over metadata covering the entire period Farook used the phone (he apparently was using the phone into November), as well as the content that was backed up into iCloud until October 19. Presumably, Apple turned over all the same things on the victims Farook killed, up to 14 iPhones full of communications, including with Farook, set to auto-backup as Farook’s phone originally had been. Apple can and surely does turn over all the same things when an iPhone user in Paris or Beijing or Beirut sparks the interest of NSA.

If Apple were to move its headquarters and servers to Cork (perhaps with some redundant servers in Brazil, for example), that would be far less accessible to both US law enforcement and intelligence. And contrary to what you might think from those attacking Apple’s alleged non-compliance here, that would result in significantly less intelligence (or evidence) than both are getting now.

That’s because by offering the best encryption product in the world that relies on US-based servers, Apple ensures that at least the metadata — not to mention any content backed up to iCloud (which in Farook’s case, included content through October plus that from his colleagues) — is readily available. If Apple were to move to Cork, any backed up content would be far harder to get and NSA would have to steal Internet packets to get iMessage metadata (admittedly, that’s probably pretty easy to do from Ireland, given its proximity to GCHQ’s gaping maw, but it does require some work).

The counterexample is the way the terrorists behind the Paris attack used Telegram. Because that’s a non-US messaging system, data including metadata from it was not easily available (though as I understand it its encryption would be fairly trivial for NSA to overcome). Thus, terrorists were able to use an inferior product and obtain more obscurity (until Telegram, under pressure, shut down a bunch of ISIS channels) than they would have if they had used the superior iPhone because Apple’s servers are in the US. If US national security officials force multinational companies to choose between quality of product and US location, one or two may choose to offshore. Alternately, eventually the foreign products may come to rival what Apple is currently offering.

Right now, US officials are guaranteed that if intelligence and criminal targets use the best product in the world, they’ll have evidence readily available. Even ignoring all the economic reasons to want Apple to stay in the US (or better yet to actually pay its fair share of taxes in the US!) that could change if Apple were to decide it could not longer legally offer a secure product while remaining in the US.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    Perhaps instead of *moving* to Ireland, Apple should consider *buying* a country. Think they could afford something the size of New Zealand.

    Maybe even Ireland.

    • martin says:

      Holy moly. The thoughts that a “corporation” becoming a sovereign nation unto itself is bizarre. I mean…what does it take, besides owning the land? I can just hear Tim Cook responding to an FBI demand then.

      “Oh yeah Comey? Well, go fuck yourself.”

      yeah yeah. I know. One can fantasize though..right? :)

      • jo6pac says:

        I’m not sure that is such a great idea to become a country that doesn’t agree with everything Amerika wants. It hasn’t worked to well Libya, Syria, Yemen, and many other nations that the citizens have been killed or turned into refuges.

        I love the idea of giving the secret code to the fbi and it would take a few minutes if that long for China and Russia to have it with every other hacker. I’m not a fan of apple but do hope they make it through this sad event of more govt. oversight.

  2. Ian says:

    emptywheel:

    The argument that you made for Apple moving its practical Headquarters & servers AND PROGRAMMING TEAMS off-shore was exactly the same argument that http://www.silentcircle.com had to make too itself recently.

    Counting amongst its customers the Special Operations section [the JSOC] of the US Armed Forces and “more than 90% of the US Senate” they had chosen to :
    .
    i) organize the corporation out of Switzerland [Switzerland has a vigorous “Privacy Commissioner” & [like the UK] extensive tax write-offs for “patents & intellectual property” while having the legal heft to have other countries respect those legal assets [the so called “patent box”]
    ii) organize the hardware & the encryption-firmware out of the Kingdom of Spain
    iii)by using a modified Android standard OS they allowed the use of NON USA-BASED PROGRAMMING TEAMS WHICH WILL BE CRUCIAL IN APPLE’s CASE TO STOP THE US JUDICIARY GOING DIRECTLY TO THE PROGRAMMING TEAMS
    iv) They had escaped the USA’s electorate insistence/IRS on its right to tax the corporations entire worldwide profits [only the USA & Eritrea claim the right to tax a corporation based solely upon its citizenship rather than where the corporation earns its profits.]
    .
    I SUSPECT IN APPLE’s CASE THAT WHILE THEY WOULD GAIN IN INCREASING THE RESPECT OF MAJORITY OF THEIR GLOBAL CUSTOMER’s RESPECT FOR STANDING UP TO THE US JUDICIARY,THE HAND-MAIDEN OF WASHINGTON DC,THEIR SHAREHOLDERS[primarily US citizens]WOULD FIND IT MORE SENSIBLE TO DITCH MR COOK BECAUSE—-UNLIKE SILENT CIRCLE—THE SHAREHOLDERS NEVER DID AGREE TO BUY THE SHARES ON THE BASIS OF “PRIVACY” MERELY ON THE BASIS THAT THEY ARE “PRETTY DEVICES” THAT ARE VERY PROFITABLE BECAUSE THEY ARE PERCEIVED AS FASHIONABLE……………….SAMSUNG WAS ALWAYS CHEAPER & USED THE OLD AVIS SLOAGAN OF “We’re #2 We Tray Harder”—————
    .
    and Silent Circle had said from the very beginning that they would move off-shore if they came under too much pressure from the instrument of the USA—which is why the US Senate [including I suspect Bernie] use them

    • martin says:

      quote”Counting amongst its customers the Special Operations section [the JSOC] of the US Armed Forces and “more than 90% of the US Senate” they had chosen to :”unquote

      How weird. Given I’m not knowledgeable in modern communications tech,(I don’t even own a cellphone) I would have thought the USG had it’s own servers and communications software for military and branches of the USG. This seems really silly to me. I mean, what do they use for the POTUS, CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, etc etc?

      • Ian says:

        While the US Govt & all Federal Agencies do have ownership of their assets including servers etc they don’t actually physically design,build & operate them.Rather they lay down Technical Standards (published in the Federal Register) which anyone is allowed to meet & PROVIDED THEY SUBMIT THE VENDORS PROPOSED HARDWARE & SOFTWARE SOLUTION TO THE AGENCIES NEEDS FOR TESTING BY DESIGNATED ENTITIES TO CONFIRM THE PROPOSED SOLUTION MEETS THE TECHNICAL STANDARDS then Federal Govt Agencies can purchase the proposed solution from the vendors.
        .
        There are other concerns–is it a US citizen supplier with US Security Clearances?, does it meet the Buy American Act/Buy American Guidelines for very large volume purchases [but even the Buy American Act requirements were always waived for the US DOD,never for the Parks & Wildlife Service?] & the Pentagon has been praising COTS [buying Commercial Off-the Shelf] for decades
        .
        Finally, remember,Silent Circle’s founders were US citizen programmers;ex-US Navy Seals & ex-[British Army]SAS Regiment individuals selling into a very specialized marketplace that requires devices that are completely in-distinguishable from civilian usage–even upon close inspection by “the enemy”—whether “the enemy” be a foreign Nation-State or private investigators looking at the activities of the M & A Dept. of a major Wall St/City of London firm.
        .
        So the Silent Circle Press Release of Dec 15 2015 titled: “Silent Circle achieves Fips 140-2-Encryption Validation to meet US-Federal requirements for Silent Phone says it all”–The Blackphone 2 has become “Silent Phone” & suitable for any agency that has expressed that minimum technical standard in its RFP/RFQ
        .
        As to the 22nd SAS Regt [of the British Army] involvement in Silent Circle’s founders, if I recall Col Charlie Beckwith,USA’s memoirs published many years ago[Beckwith was the Commanding Officer of the 1st use of DELTA at “Desert One” in 1980] including many photos of his time serving with the SAS [in 1962] in Malaya for training in “behind enemy lines” warfare.The DELTA FORCE was initially modelled on the SAS–& Beckwith was elevated in rank from a Major to a Colonel[in one-jump] because his Commanding Officer couldn’t stand the thought that an US Army officer would only have the same rank as his British counterpart[the SAS Regiment has always been commanded by a Lt-Col]

  3. Rayne says:

    martin (5:30) — I find your surprise amusing. How is Apple *buying* a country different from the U.S. today, when Kochs+ALEC+U.S. Chamber of Commerce+TBTF Banks+gun manufacturers own Congress and when a Democratic candidate fronted by TBTF Banks and a real estate/hotel/casino magnate running as a nominal Republican are the front runners for POTUS?

    Tuvalu and Fiji would probably jump at the chance to be bought if it meant their island homes would be saved from sinking under rising sea levels. But sadly not enough land mass, too remote, too easily cut off.

    jo6pac (5:48) — You know what Apple has for leverage that Libya/Syria/Yemen don’t have? Information. Heh.

    Ian (5:29) — Dude, we’re going to have to talk. The use of all caps comes across as shouting. Please refrain from using caps as much as you have.

    This (which I have uncapped for readability):

    The shareholders never did agree to buy the shares on the basis of “privacy” merely on the basis that they are “pretty devices” that are very profitable because they are perceived as fashionable…

    No. The majority of AAPL shareholders are institutional investors who like AAPL’s overall business model, which relies heavily on secure computing. This includes commercial transactions online in its own platforms like iTunes and now Apple Pay, not just its smartphones. Without security, the value of iPhones as a vertical integrated with other digital products falls greatly. That same security must also work with its communications products as they are the link between apps-as-service and the users’ devices. Just as institutional investors wouldn’t buy stock in banks without secure vaults, they won’t buy stock in insecure information technology platforms. Individual investors like me would be just plain stupid to buy any business’s stock just because their products were “cool.” A business must make a profit to be a worthwhile investment, and it can’t do so when it or its products leak like sieves.

    • Ian says:

      Rayne:
      Sorry for the SHOUTING use of Caps–I’m learning as fast as I can the HTML suggestions for embedded links & hope to move onto bolding use of CSS soon

    • Ian says:

      Rayne:
      Can I respectfully disagree with your arguments about the shareholders concerns of the NASDAQ listing of AAPL?
      .
      i) Institutional Investors are notorious worldwide for having “No Morality [but the Profit motive]” even when in practice they follow fads & fashions as often as the next person.
      .
      ii) Even Cook is only suggesting that the “skeleton keys/master key” being sought by Washington would be required by Moscow & Beijing—–[i.e.no effect on Apple & its users if the country involved has much more control over its Judiciary & Police Forces than the US electorate have chosen to impose on American Institutions—now how did [British Newspaper] The Guardian explain it when they launched “The Counted”—-that of the 1300+ US residents killed by US-based Police Forces in 12 months—-that it was a number more than all other Western/European Heritage countries put together[apart from Mexico]—& how many of these cases has produced the prosecution of the American police officer involved—about the same number as in Mexico?
      .
      The US electorate have known about Mr Snowden’s documents for sometime now–& basically they have yawned & “turned over the page”
      .
      With both VISA & MASTERCARD just about now organizing mandatory Chip-&-PIN protection in their widely used cards in the USA—some 5-10 years after Canada & Europe REQUIRED it in their countries
      .
      We know from Mr Snowden documents that BLACKBERRY [which offered similar levels of encryption on its devices to what Apple is talking about today] was routinely decrypted by GCHQ [Cheltenham & London,England] –without access by the intercerpt service to the actual device itself—because 1 of the images disclosed by the Guardian
      [with the logos of the Canadian & British code-breaking agency along the bottom of the page] talked about the solving of a months-long period of “going dark” as Blackberry had changed their transmission format [& neither Ottawa nor Cheltenham/London had sought the suppliers “inside help”].Even if the NSA was incapable of “providing assistance” to the FBI with an Apple —GCHQ will always assist the NSA[although NOT the FBI]
      .
      Finally to the Share Price itself:
      AAPL was approx $60+ in May 2013
      AAPL was approx $130+ in May 2015
      With many stock analysts explaining the rise by saying that it was “onwards & upwards for ever & ever” while Apple lost every court case outside the US against Samsung for its “IP rights exclusive to Apple” used to justify its premium—winning only California,USA
      AAPL was approx $90+ in Feb 2016
      With many stock analysts explaining the 30+% reduction as the sudden realization that it wasn’t “ onwards & upwards for ever & ever” after all
      .
      So if any impact on share prices that swing from $60+to-$130-to-$90-in 33 months that could be discerned from the Washington-Apple fight against that background would have to be very, very large indeed.———No?

    • martin says:

      quote”I find your surprise amusing.”unquote

      I suppose that’s better than pissing you off. As for my “surprise”, perhaps there is a group of people out here in normal land that don’t think about things like corporations actually buying a sovereign nation.

      quote”How is Apple *buying* a country different from the U.S. today, when Kochs+ALEC+U.S. Chamber of Commerce+TBTF Banks+gun manufacturers own Congress and when a Democratic candidate fronted by TBTF Banks and a real estate/hotel/casino magnate running as a nominal Republican are the front runners for POTUS? unquote

      ummm… they don’t have a Title of Ownership?? :) Besides.. you make it sound like I was questioning your suggestion. I wasn’t. It just never occurred to my little pea brain that a corporation could buy a country. It’s too busy thinking how to stretch my SNAP money to the end of the month, comprende? Insert rolling eye smiley here.

      Now excuse me, I’ve got important things to think about than corporations buying up countries. Like rebuilding the 3tc engine carburetor on my 35 yr old Toyota Corolla, that you can’t buy a kit for, in 25 degree weather. Meanwhile, I’m positive Apple will take care of itself and you’ll have time to think up some more bizarre concepts that will boggle my mind.. for at least an hour.

  4. Rayne says:

    martin (8:04) — The U.S. is “owned,” corporations didn’t need to take legal title. They just had to “buy” government representatives to do their bidding. The question is which countries’ governments apart from U.S. are as prone to persuasion by capital.

    If U.S. and other governments weren’t already co-opted by corporations, Piketty wouldn’t have had a book to write.

    Good luck with the carburetor rebuild. Surprised you can’t find a kit online, must be an odd model.

    • martin says:

      Rayne, I’m as cognizant as anyone the US Congress is “owned” by corporate capital. Moreover, certain segments of the .01% maintain total control of our clandestine elements as well as foreign “policy”. Col. Fletcher Prouty named them the Secret Team. Call them what you will today. As for other counties governments, I’ve got a buck that says they are ALL prone to corruptio…er… persuasion by capital. And always have been.

      quote”If U.S. and other governments weren’t already co-opted by corporations, Piketty wouldn’t have had a book to write.”unquote

      Indeed. And I’m sure the 1% took notice of his warning as well, as within a week of it’s publication, every 1% mouthpiece in Murika were writing everything they could to convince the planet he was wrong. Meanwhile, the 1% yawns, rest assured their heads will never hear the lunette drop, regardless of Piketty. Like the saying goes though..the century is young and the masses aren’t starving yet.

      quote “Surprised you can’t find a kit online, must be an odd model.”unquote

      Yes it is. Most people just replace them with a Webber. Unfortunately, my pockets aren’t deep enough nor is the car worth the effort. Two Michigan winters worth of road salt saw to that.

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