Watch: John Oliver explains why Apple needs to maintain its encryption—to stay “one step ahead” of hackers

Apple is “barely one step ahead of hackers.”
Apple is “barely one step ahead of hackers.”
Image: HBO
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

As figures in technology and politics weigh in on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s iPhone encryption battle with Apple, the comedian John Oliver has now joined the fray. In his show on Sunday (Mar. 13), Oliver backs the tech company’s resistance to government efforts to compel it to unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to a suspect in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. And Oliver called out the FBI on its troublingly over-simplistic view of how technology works:

Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that helping the government hack into one phone could expose millions more around the world to government snooping or hacking. But, Oliver said on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the FBI and its supporters have been “weirdly dismissive” of these challenges “in ways that indicate they either don’t fully understand how technology works, or are pretending not to.”

One of the main concerns is that unlocking the phone would obligate tech companies to unlock every phone with information that’s deemed a security risk. That would be a lot like helping your parents figure out their smartphones, Oliver points out: “If you do it once, you’re going to be doing it 14 times a day.”

But the FBI still contends that Apple should be able to undermine the encryption on one phone without compromising others. A parody iPhone ad on Oliver’s show imagines Apple’s reply to that request: “We’re engineers, not wizards.”

Apple is partly to blame for the government’s misguided belief in its “magical powers,” Oliver said. It’s because Apple bills ”the most mundane aspects of their products as world changers.” A more honest iPhone ad, the show said, should admit that Apple is already struggling to keep its technology safe, and is “barely one step ahead of hackers at all times.”