Remember the old ‘good news and bad news‘ comedy bits? Basically, each bit was supposedly something really bad that happened, immediately followed up by something good, but totally disproportionate; the bad news fully invalidated the good news.
I’ll give examples farther down in the article, but we can easily apply the same ‘good news and bad news‘ to features on your iPhone. The good news is that the iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint reader makes it easier to unlock and use the device with less effort. What’s the bad news?
Ipso Facto Danger
One of my co-workers pointed out the problems with gun ownership to a fellow worker who replied, ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.’ Reductio ad absurdum requires we take that line as far as possible. The good news is this: I have a solution to gun violence. The bad news is the solution. To end gun violence completely we should get rid of people.
Seemingly without tongue in cheek, Glenn Fleishman asks the question, ‘Should you disable Touch ID for your own security?‘ The good news is this. Touch ID enables security that’s also easy to use. The bad news is this: The feds could use Touch ID to force you to access your iPhone, bypassing the built-in security feature.
Say what? Well, sure, why not a little more reductio ad absurdum. Don’t use Touch ID because a thief might cut off your finger or all your fingers to use Touch ID to get to whatever is on your phone that would require such drastic action. On the other hand, Fleishman’s scenario is somewhat more realistic. Courts have already ruled that authorities have the right to force you to open your iPhone via Touch ID to gain access to whatever evil deeds you’re keeping secret in there.
Interestingly, the courts cannot easily compel an iPhone user to divulge a password, but the fingerprint is a legal requirement. Just as interesting is the 48-hour rule built into Touch ID which is disabled after not being used (much like disabling Touch ID when an iPhone is restarted; you need the actual password to gain access).
Got that? Confusing? Time for a break:
Doctor: I have some good news and some bad news.
Patient: Give me the good news first, Doc.
Doctor: You have 24 hours to live.
Patient: What’s the bad news?
Doctor: I should have told you yesterday.
So, somehow, and under certain conditions, the good news security feature built into each iPhone– Touch ID fingerprint sensor– becomes bad news because it can be used against you. I don’t think reductio ad absurdum applies here. Don’t use your iPhone to hold anything that would get your arrested or compel a judge to give authorities the ability to use your finger without your consent to open the phone.
Except the problem goes much deeper than that, and borders on human rights, civil rights, and the right to privacy, and the right not to incriminate yourself.
Sometimes this is all a matter of perspective.
Doctor: I have some good news and some bad news. The tests showed you only have 24-hours to live.
Patient: What’s the good news.
Doctor: That was the good news. The bad news is that I forgot to call you yesterday.
Not only are there legal and moral and ethical and technical issues at play, there’s also the advent of common sense. Maybe Apple could add a special feature to the iPhone’s Touch ID configuration.
Some security experts have suggested Apple and other phone makers could have a “panic fingerprint”: You could set one of your fingers as a lock or wipe option, and no one attempting to force you to unlock the phone would know which finger it is.
For example, set the pinky finger as the “panic fingerprint” and when forced to unlock your phone by a court order, use that instead and the phone gets locked down or erases itself. Of course, there’s a danger in touching Touch ID with your pinky finger, but that’s just another element in the ‘good news, bad news‘ scenario with technology that never seems to end.