Part of the fun of political comedy shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report (rest in peace, you wonderful program), and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is that their satirical nature always skews toward opinion. Because this trio never pretends to be an actual news program - minus in-depth reporting, 12 percent of "online Americans" in a 2015 Pew study stated that they got their news from The Daily Show instead of traditional outlets like Fox News or CNN - they're allowed to take an editorial stand.

But these shows also seek to impart accurate information, even if there are giggles and guffaws along the way, and sometimes a more balanced, informational approach is necessary. It was the tack John Oliver used in his March 13 episode of Last Week Tonight when he broke down Apple's lawsuit over encryption - and better yet, it worked.

Before we get into the clip: if you need a brief primer on the issue that Oliver is referencing (i.e., the FBI wants Apple to unlock the work iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters, to get a better idea of his motives), here's a brief, general primer by our own Jason Serafino:

"Those who side with the FBI claim that Apple should be more than willing to go along with the government, since there could be important information on the phone that could help the agency with its investigation. [...] Opponents of the FBI feel that the government demanding this from Apple sets a scary precedent - how long until the government has direct access to all of our devices? And just how much power over our privacy are we willing to give the government in the name of security?"

Now that we got that out of the way, we can go a bit more in-depth a la Oliver's approach on the issue.

Oliver starts his segment off by explaining (or getting James Lyne from Sophos to explain) that encryption is what protects our private info and "most important information," everything from passwords to general login info (and as Oliver added, "financial information, health records, dick pics, trade secrets, classified government information, dick pics..."). 

But as Oliver noted, "encryption also has a downside" - it keeps law enforcement from accessing information that might be key for investigative purposes, or even saving lives, like in the case of the San Bernardino shooting this past December. The FBI wants access to Farook's phone for this very reason, but the encryption that protects it can wipe the info off the device completely, say, if an incorrect password is input too many times. And why are Apple and the FBI are butting heads over this? Well, we've already explained it to you.

But Apple doesn't have a break code for Farook's updated iOS security system, so the FBI wants Apple to come up with a new one to undermine its embedded encryption. Apple refused this request - and that's why they're in court as we speak. 

As Oliver continues, the issue has become a hot-button topic during the primaries, with Trump going as far as to demand a boycott of Apple products - and surprisingly, Oliver agrees not with his plan, but with the "outrage" behind it: "Apple's refusal to help crack the phone can seem hard to defend, especially when ... you think about it very simplistically." And it does seem like a necessary measure, and utilitarian to boot: doing this now is for the greater good, and lives and domestic safety are on the line.

"But this is not simple," he continues, "it's a hugely complicated story with massive implications. [...an] encrypted phone is nothing like a bank or a safe. If you penetrate that safe, you've only penetrated that safe. But a phone could be modified to open many, many more phones." That's why Apple CEO Tim Cook is adamantly opposed to complying with the FBI's wishes. He also mentions that Apple has given as much information over as it can, like Farook's iCloud backups, without creating this encryption-breaking code.

"The FBI and its supporters can be weirdly dismissive of [the encryption] issue, in ways that indicate they don't fully understand how technology works - or are pretending not to," said the host on the matter.

There's also the fear on Apple's part that someone, somehow could more or less get hold of the code if it's created, or if the tech fell in the hands of other countries. "Russia and China have as much respect for privacy as horny teenagers in '80s comedies," joked Oliver, but it's a matter to consider. (Great Porkie's reference, though.)

And then there's the matter of it happening in the first place - because if it's done once, it can be done again, and if there's a legal precedent, companies like Apple might have no ground to stand on if they attempt to say no.

"Think of the government like your dad," Oliver states in the clip. "If he asks you to help him with his iPhone, be careful. If you do it once, you're going to be doing it 14 times a day." 

But there has been a precedent set - or least an attempt at one. A few decades ago, the government wanted to create a "clipper chip" to put into devices so that the government could have a point of entry under dire circumstances.

It's more complicated than "giving a house key to a trusted neighbor," though, explained the host. "He's only going to try on your underwear if it's absolutely necessary." But someone quickly figured out a way to "disable the government access feature" and make the chip an access free-for-all, so it was scrapped. 

(This was probably the most perfect metaphor of the night, honestly.)

But even though the government might be too "optimistic" when it comes to Apple's ability to breach a code that can't be hacked, Oliver states that selfsame belief isn't really the government's fault: "they [Apple] sell the most mundane aspects of their projects as world-changers," like, let's face it, 3D Touch and the iPhone's new rose-gold color ("rose gold looks like someone vomited a salmon dinner onto a pair of dirty ballet shoes"). But that ability to sell "magic" doesn't make Apple any more guarded against hackers.

As Gizmodo pointed out, John Oliver has been an outspoken fan regarding digital privacy in the past, but even the comedian stated that "there's no easy side to be on in this debate." He's right - and that's why this clip might be one of the best ways to make your decision about where you stand on the issue. Even if Oliver more or less makes his opinion known toward the end, it's obvious he doesn't want his viewers to think the same way on this one - and that's why this particular reportage is so essential.

Check out John Oliver's dive into the Apple v. the FBI encryption legal battle in the video clip below.

 

Source: YouTube

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