On February 16th, a United States judge ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock an encrypted Iphone that belonged to one of the San Bernandino shooters, Syed Farook. Farook and his wife, reportedly inspired by the Islamic State, killed 14 people and injured an additional 22 when the couple started firing shots in Farook’s place of employment. Eventually, both shooters were killed in a subsequent altercation with police, leaving Farook’s phone behind and in the possession of the FBI. The phone was encrypted using Apple’s default software which means neither the FBI nor Apple can access the phone without entering the correct passcode (Source). Apple has refused to provide the necessary tools and technology to assist the FBI in their quest to retrieve the data on the basis that it would undermine our civil liberties.
Recently, Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple, argued if Apple assisted the FBI it “would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect” (Source).
Basically, Cook is expressing, if the FBI were to get into Farook’s phone via Apple assisting them, a backdoor to the Iphone would be created, thus potentially putting Iphone users privacy and security at risk. Apple has suggested once something like that is created, the technology could be used over and over again which would set a “dangerous precedent”(Source). The FBI justifies compelling Apple to unlock the Iphone by citing the All Writs Act of 1789. In Apple’s eyes, the government is trying to expand their authority under the act, stating the technology to create this backdoor would make it easier to unlock your Iphone; resulting in the capability to access anyone’s phone data with ease.
According to The Guardian, the FBI and Department of Justice are seeking access to the phone data to determine how the couple was influenced by Islamic terrorist groups (Source). However, could there be more to this story? A Twitter account associated with San Bernandino county said the county worked with the FBI to reset Farook’s Icloud password. That refutes the previous claim by the FBI that the county worked independently to change the password (Source).This move has complicated the process of accessing the data on his phone. Not to mention, the Department of Justice is pressing Apple to unlock other Iphones in 12 separate cases despite the fact the government has said they are only trying to access one phone (Source).
Even though these facts have risen about the government’s mishaps, Bill Gates supports what the government is doing. One of the most prominent CEOs in history stated: “This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case”(Source). The American public, according to opinion polls, even tend to side with the government on this issue.
With that said, I can understand why the government wants the information on Farook’s phone. The Islamic State is still a strong presence in the world and our government wants to know everything they can about their affiliates and sympathizers. What happened in San Bernandino was indeed a tragedy and the government should be doing everything they can to keep our national security intact, but it is hard for me to believe they do not have some type of hidden agenda. The government lied about being involved with the changing of Farook’s Icloud password, complicating the process along with lying about the number of phones they are urging Apple to help them access. Also, this is about more than a phone; this is about the security and privacy of Iphone users across the country. What would happen if Apple did create this backdoor and hackers were able to easily get into anyone’s phone? Moreover, what kind of precedent would this set for average Iphone users not involved in terrorism? The negative implications of this issue, in my opinion, far exceeds the need to obtain information on a dead terrorist’s phone.
Contributed by R.A.