It’s not every night that John Oliver mentions Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Lord Grantham in the same sentence. But on this Last Week Tonight, the comedian went deep on the topic of encryption, so deep that there was room for a Downton Abbey joke.
“You may not think about encryption much, but it’s pretty fundamental to all our lives,” the host noted. The drama that has been raging for about a month related to the FBI’s demands that Apple create a backdoor to its products finally reached Oliver’s desk. He provided a detailed description of the debacle, landing on: “There is no easy side to be on in this debate.”
He first explained that everything you have on your phone from finances to “dick pics” to computers in cars are protected by encryption. He even showed how Wired had hackers kill a guy’s engine while he was on the highway.
Oliver then addressed the the Justice Department’s efforts to have Apple create a backdoor to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. Oliver points out that the government is playing dumb in interviews, acting like this golden key would only be once and not time and again to crack other Apple products. The issue’s complexity was exemplified by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s reaction. He started out calling Apple “stupid” but became edified on the topic, sided with Tim Cook, understanding the nuance.
Twenty years ago, the government asked companies to use a clipper chip, offering only the government a key to your information. But hacker Matt Blaze figured out the coding, and ruined their scheme.
Oliver showed a clip of Cook dubbing backdoors “the software equivalent of cancer” on ABC News. But Oliver showed — through both comedy and facts — that Apple is actually vulnerable to hackers. You can buy a device to crack iPhones on eBay and watch tutorials on YouTube. As Oliver points out, “people who want encryption will always be able to find it.”
Where does Oliver stand? He thinks any weakening of encryption would bring huge risks that aren’t worth it.
The final segment was the episode’s crowning glory, an Apple commercial demonstrating the hysteria that might follow if the company revealed how secure (or unsecure) their products really are.
“Here’s something you should know,” the voiceover notes. “We’re barely one step ahead of hackers at all times so that when you idiots lose your phone, your information doesn’t wind up in the hands of guys like Gary.” Gary is a creep: “Now I can masturbate to photos of your family,” he says. The people at Apple respond with, “we’re engineers not wizards!” Employees end up banging their computers like monkeys. The new tagline Oliver suggests for Apple is telling: “Join us as we dance madly on the lip of the volcano.”