The Safe Job

Alternate Universe 4528-J

March 10, 2017

It’s March 10, 2017 in Alternate Universe 4528-J. In Cupertino, California, employees are arriving at the offices of “Canteloupe Corp,” manufacturers of top-of-the-line hardened safes. Sales are good for Canteloupe; their “iSafe” line of safes are well-known and well-loved for their good design, ease of use, and security. Though expensive, they have a well-known cultural cachet that has propelled their sales beyond those of their nearest competitor, Mountain View-based “Avogadro, Inc.” and their “Automaton” line of safes.

In the past ten years, safes have become incredibly popular in the United Statez, largely due to Canteloupe’s market dominance and aggressive marketing. Nearly everyone in the country owns either an iSafe or Automaton, and regularly uses it to store their information.

Meanwhile, it is lunchtime in Washington, D.P., and newly-inaugurated President William J. Clinton is having lunch with James Comey, the director of the U.S. domestic security organization known as FBI. “Your wife understood the importance of what we’re trying to do when she was president,” he says between mouthfuls of soup. “As the first male president, you wouldn’t want to get a reputation for being soft on domestic terrorism, would you?”

Clinton gazes over the Potomac, pondering, before finally nodding his head. “I’ll appoint Garza,” he tells Comey without looking back. He places a piece of bread into his mouth.

“You won’t regret it,” Comey says. “This is probably the most important…”

With a suddenness that surprises even Clinton, he turns back and points at the security director. “You’d better get something for me, James.” He swallows the roll and straightens his shoulders. “Garza will get confirmed, and he’ll break the Supreme Court deadlock in favor of the FBI. But I’m going to suffer a huge blowback here, and I’ve got too much to do to get defeated in 2020. If this works, the people will stand behind me after what Farook did in San Bernardino. But if you don’t find me some sort of domestic terrorism network, or prevent an upcoming attack, I’ll make sure you can’t get a job as a public defender in Baltimore after this.”

April 17, 2017

With a swiftness that defied logic, the Supreme Court found in favor of the FBI, and Canteloupe was duly ordered to create a master key for their iSafe line and deliver it to the FBI offices as soon as it was created. Amid protest and public outcry, Canteloupe complied with the demand, delivering the key to the FBI on April 17.

True to Comey’s word, the FBI shortly thereafter announces that they have discovered information within the terrorist’s iSafe that would lead to the arrest of five alleged collaborators in the San Bernardino attacks, but the validity of this information is immediately called into question by many in the law enforcement community. All five alleged collaborators are silently released from custody one week after their arrest, late on a Friday night and at the same time that a celebrity sex scandal is leaked to the media from an “unknown source.”

May 10, 2017

Tim Cooke, CEO of Canteloupe, is whisked away from his plane at London’s Heathrow airport in an unmarked black armored car, and carried to 2 Marsham Street, where the head of the British Home Office Theresa May welcomes him to her office.

“I trust your flight was comfortable,” she tells him with a smile, gesturing him toward a seat and sitting down herself. “I’ll cut to the chase. The Investigatory Powers Law of 2016 gives the Home Office authorization to possess a master key to unlock any safe sold in the United Kingdome, unless it is technically impractical or illegal in the company’s country of origin.” She leans forward in her chair. “And last week, Canteloupe proved that neither is the case with regard to the iSafe.”

Cooke eyes her dourly. “And if we do not comply?”

May’s smile vanishes abruptly. “If you do not provide a copy of the master key, Canteloupe would in very short order find their licence to sell iSafes in the United Kingdome revoked. And you, Mr. Cooke, would rather likely find yourself in jail for breach of UK law.”

She stands from her desk and turns to the large windows that frame her office. “And in case you were considering something particularly naughty, the IP Law does provide for criminal penalties in the unfortunate event that this request is revealed to any third party.” She eyes Cooke. “Which means you cannot tell the press.”

May 15, 2017

Citing a similar law, France has made the same request of Canteloupe, being delivered the master key in short order. Due to European Union law, the master key is now available to every nation within the EU, and many of their allies, within the week. This includes Italy, whose former president, Silvio Berlusconi, appointed several members of the mafia to high-profile positions, allowing the crime organization to gain access to the master key as well.

Interestingly, on the same day that France makes an official request for the iSafe master key, an independent FBI consultant named Jeffrey Hollins begins work at the agency as a researcher.

May 16, 2017

Jeffrey Hollins finds and scans the master key to a digital file as a part of his research. He soon begins smuggling the file out by memory in octets over the next seven months and reconstructing it on his home computer.

Meanwhile, the FBI, having established precedent with Canteloupe, begins to put pressure on Avogadro to create a master key for Automaton models, as well.

June 30, 2017

By way of treaties, backdoor deals, and outright espionage, nearly every developed nation on Earth now has a copy of the iSafe Master Key. Notably excepted is North Korea, who have been focused largely on their own international hacking efforts. Less than ninety days after the FBI delivered their demand to Canteloupe, the percentage of people and organized crime syndicates with access to the master key is approaching 100%.

July 8, 2017

Jeffrey Hollins releases his stolen copy of the Master Key on the Internet, promptly following Edward Snowden to a country with no extradition treaty. It becomes the most downloaded, most shared torrent in Pirate Bay history, easily surpassing season 2 of Firefly for that title.

The public backlash from this leak causes several major shockwaves which divide the nation; some say that Hollins has harmed national security by making this key public, while others say that the FBI should have safeguarded it more closely.

Either way, consumer confidence in Canteloupe Corp drops massively, triggering a massive sale of their stock immediately and plunging the company deep into debt. Purchases of the iSafe drop by 50% almost overnight. Demand for Automaton safes rises exponentially, but as the FBI continues to press on Avogadro to build a master key, the company opts instead to cease production of their safes and leave the market entirely.

With that, low-quality operations are the only ones which remain in business, selling cheap safes at high markups now that their competition has all but evaporated.

Those who continue using their iSafes soon find them utterly indefensible, and their data is stolen on more days than when it isn’t. Governmental overreach by corrupt nations reaches an all-time high.

And in security circles, 2017 is soon discussed as “the year that personal privacy died.”

And that is why Apple must not acquiesce to the FBI’s demands.

Special thanks to Computerphile’s “Golden Key” video for filling in lots of information I didn’t have before.

Cross-posted to Medium.