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Apple vs. FBI: John Oliver knows what we're trying to keep secret

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Encryption (HBO)
During his keynote at South by Southwest, President Barack Obama said technology can “empower individuals to do things they could have never dreamed of before, but [can] also empower folks who are very dangerous to spread dangerous messages,” indirectly referring to resistance from Apple and major tech companies in providing access to encrypted user data for the FBI.

Meanwhile, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver thinks encryption is vital to protect our most treasured files.

“Encryption can protect the things most important to us: our financial information, health records, dick pics, trade secrets, classified government records, dick pics, our physical location, the physical location of our dicks, credit card information, dick pics, and pictures of our dicks,” Oliver said in the most recent episode of his show, which tackled encryption and the ongoing battle between Apple and the FBI.

For a little background, a U.S. magistrate recently issued an order for Apple to create a tool that would allow the FBI to access the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The shooters killed 14 people last December, and the FBI believes the attack is linked to ISIS. Apple, with the support of human rights groups, major tech companies, as well as security experts and academics, is defending the use of encryption and rejected the order, fearing that any backdoor it created into its operating system could get into the wrong hands.

John Oliver summed up the controversial debate succinctly, hitting every major argument made by both sides.

“As for the notion Apple can throw the formula away after the FBI uses it once — nobody seriously thinks that is going to happen,” he said, after showing a video clip of John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence & counter-terrorism of the NYPD, on CBS This Morning saying that Apple can tear the formula up and “toss it in the fireplace.”

“So it might be the iPhone today, an Android phone tomorrow, and a Blackberry the day after that — assuming the day after that is in 1998.”

It’s not unnatural to bring up Blackberry whenever discussing encryption, but it’s also hard not to crack a joke about the waning company:

“Whatever happens in this case will have ramifications, because the FBI ultimately wants Apple and the entire tech industry to have its encryption always be weak enough that the company can access customers’ data, if law enforcement needs it,” Oliver said. “So it might be the iPhone today, an Android phone tomorrow, and a Blackberry the day after that — assuming the day after that is in 1998.”

In the 18-minute long video, Oliver begins with the FBI’s side — which at first had the effect of painting Apple in a negative light for not helping the FBI in its investigation, especially after saying Donald Trump’s outrage about Apple’s stance is “almost understandable.” But he quickly turned it around, and said people may not feel the same way by the end of his segment.

Oliver mentioned how other countries like China and Russia were eyeing the case, and would “presumably expect similar access,” and by the end, he threw his support for the Cupertino company behind encryption.

“Strong encryption has its costs — from protecting terrorists, to drug dealers, to child pornographers,” he said. “But I happen to feel that the risks of weakening encryption, even a little bit, even just for the government, are potentially much worse. And even though I’m on Apple’s side in this case, I do think they would help both their customers and the government understand this a lot better, if they were a little more honest regarding security in their ads.”

He then played a spoof on one of Apple’s ads on the iPhone, which exaggeratedly showed that Apple’s engineers were “barely” a step ahead of hackers, and even offered Apple a new tagline — “Apple: Join us as we dance madly on the lip of the volcano.”

Encryption aside, we do now know how John Oliver feels about rose gold.

“Rose gold looks like someone vomited a salmon dinner onto a pair of dirty ballet shoes,” he said.

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