By Tela Wittig
Apple Inc., backed by over a dozen other top names in technology such as Facebook and Google, is taking a stand for protection of privacy that could have overwhelming international consequences. In the wake of the San Bernardino attacks, where two shooters killed fourteen people this past December, the FBI launched an investigation into possible connections between the criminals responsible and the Islamic State, according to Los Angeles Times. Both attackers were killed in a shootout with police that followed; however, law enforcements recovered a phone at the scene determined to have belonged to one of shooters named Syed Rizwan Farook. The FBI has not been able to recover any intelligence as of yet due to the phone’s careful encryption, a roadblock which motivated them to attain a court order which would require Apple to comply with the FBI investigation. Apple’s participation would result in the development of technology which would allow the iPhone to be accessed remotely, a ‘backdoor’ which does not currently exist.
Apple has opted not to comply with this court order, citing their first amendment right to protection against compelled speech as well as the rights of their customers’ privacy. As a part of their public opposition, Apple has written an open letter to their customers explaining their motivation for the opposition, and why their customers should support them in order to protect their own rights in the future. Apple claims that creating this ‘backdoor’ into the iPhone represents a serious threat to the security of every iPhone user’s data, saying, “Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data.” This is not a case of Apple supporting terrorists – this a case of Apple looking at the bigger picture, and making a judgement call. While it is true that the government has probable cause to search Farook’s phone, the phone is not what is in question. Should it be as simple as Apple pressing a few keys to let the FBI search a cell phone, they would likely comply, as they have in thousands of cases in the past. This particular case requires Apple to create technology which will make all iPhones significantly less secure. There is no precedent in this field for the court system to follow, which is why the case is so crucially important to every user of Apple products. This case, if it goes as Apple is hoping, will set an international precedent for protection of private data on cell phones.
The case is an issue of international security, according to Apple’s statements, and if the FBI wins this battle, all phones become more accessible to cyber criminals and spy technology. Taking a stand for privacy is the best move for Apple because they are likely to see a positive customer response. Opposing a court order in the US, however, does not hold nearly the risk that such an action would hold in a more restricted market, such as China.
The question remains as to whether Apple would favor privacy over compliance with a government who holds the ability to cut off trading privileges and severely damage the company’s consumer base. At this time, Apple is taking a stand for personal protections, and we should stand behind them.