Richard Clarke interviewed with NPR, and seemingly everyone has seen the moneyball quote. It's worth reading, so I won't skip it, though my interest lies elsewhere...

CLARKE: No, David. If I were in the job now, I would have simply told the FBI to call Fort Meade, the headquarters of the National Security Agency, and NSA would have solved this problem for them. [The FBI is] not as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent.

So good. Now let's move on to the way he thinks. I really like to use this model. When someone oversimplifies a question, and tries to prevent something as a simple binary, as in, "Should Apple be forced to unlock an iPhone?", it's useful to show that we're ready on a spectrum or sliding scale between A and B. If you can put the question in a larger context, its faux simplicity falls away.

RICHARD CLARKE: ... Under the Obama administration, for example, we've said we're not going to torture people. You know, we could, at the far extreme to make the FBI's job easier, put ankle bracelets on everybody so that we'd know where everybody was all the time. That's a ridiculous example, but my point is encryption and privacy are larger issues than fighting terrorism.

GREENE: But can you just explain why you would compare, you know, a company helping the government design a way to unlock an iPhone to something extreme as torture and ankle bracelets? I mean, that sounds like a very extreme jump.

CLARKE: No, the point I'm trying to make is there are limits. And what this is is a case where the federal government, using a 1789 law, is trying to compel speech. And courts have ruled in the past, appropriately, that the government cannot compel speech. What the FBI and the Justice Department are trying to do is to make code writers at Apple - to make them write code that they do not want to write that will make their systems less secure. [emphasis mine]

Now we can discuss how "grey" unlocking the phone is. There's stuff that's not particularly controversial: Law enforcement should be able stop a masked man leaving a house through the window with a large bag to ask what's in there. Then there's stuff that's not confrontation in the opposite direction: We shouldn't make everyone wear GPS equipped ankle bracelets so that law enforcement can find anyone, any time, regardless of past history or probable cause.* Or that we shouldn't use extreme torture (let's face it, some of the "non-torture" means of interrogating are still, at least colloquially, torturous.)

It's a chart.

Crime likely?
Imposition Level

Question masked man in window: YES
Search suspected masked man's home: Maybe
Torture burglar: NO
Cameras at your bank: YES
Ability to GPS locate your phone: Maybe
Ankle bracelets for everyone!: NO

The iPhone unlocking is somewhere in the grid, somewhere between a burglar in a window and torturing the burglar, but where? And since the OS compromise could apply to anyone, doesn't this topic fall between bank cameras and ankle bracelets too? Which cells on the table are closest? Is there another axis we're missing (privacy)? Those are more interesting questions.

As I said, I love to reason like this. It's one of my favorite rhetorical tropes. I remember visiting a friend, and he thought that his milk had turned. His wife said, "But it's before the expiration date! It's fine." In the split second he took to reply, I butted in with, "Well, even if you keep a new carton closed and put it outside in the sun for a day, it's going to turn, regardless of date." Now we had two ends of the spectrum: Perfectly preserved milk good until the date, and poorly preserved milk that could conceivably turn before.

I wasn't trying to suggest anyone had treated the milk poorly, which is what the NPR interviewer tried to suggest to Clarke, I imagine to "BAM!" kick the interview "up a notch".

Hopefully that wasn't the interviewer's goal, but otherwise, Clarke is right back in the situation I often find myself, with someone who misses the rhetorical move and ends up annoyed that I dared suggest they don't know how to keep their milk cool. "Man, that's a very extreme jump!" No kidding. /le sigh

I get it if it's just a friend of mine who misses it, but an interviewer? Your one job was to listen, man. Okay, okay, that and keep the interviewee on track. Which he was doing exceptionally well by himself.

(Luckily both my friend & friend-in-law are excellent mathematicians, and immediately understood the logical grid I was setting out. ;^D)

* Though this one is probably less controversial than we think, at least if we carry around cellphones that are powered on.

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