Apple CEO Tim Cook has refused to comply with a court order to create a backdoor into the iOS software in order to unlock the iphone of the accused San Bernardino shooters. Should Apple be forced to comply with the court order?
Pro: Apple’s compliance would set dangerous precedent
Staff Writer Timothy Mably
The FBI’s failed attempt to log into the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook has led the agency to request that Apple violate their ethics by creating a way to override the passcode feature, possibly leading to a compromise of civil liberties in the future.
Although the judge cited the All Writs Act, instituted 227 years ago, which orders third parties to aid police in investigations, Apple would jeopardize the privacy as well as the safety of its users worldwide by creating software that can readily determine users’ pass codes.
During a 1977 case involving the New York Telephone Company, the Supreme Court said the government cannot force a business to assist law enforcement if it would cause them to endure “unreasonable burdens.” If Apple were to comply with the FBI’s demands, it is definite that the tech mogul would undergo significant backlash, from customers and potentially other governments.
It has been pointed out by some that since this technology does not exist, Apple cannot be forced through the All Writs Act to invent it. If a locksmith were asked by police to open a door, they would do what they were able to, but they would not be obligated to go the extra mile and obtain a new key.
Apple has worked with the FBI and provided suggestions to extract data from Farook’s iPhone, but there has not been any progress.
Even though FBI Director James Comey doesn’t want to “set a master key loose on the land,” his intent does not prevent the foreseeable consequences.
“If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook during an event focusing on iPhone encryption last June. “If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.”
Several police departments throughout the country have said that if the FBI wins the federal court ruling against Apple, they will ask for phones confiscated prior the San Bernardino investigation to also be unlocked. Once such software is widely integrated, the chance of it being used with harmful intent is practically guaranteed.
Cook has said that the FBI’s case against his company is not about uncovering helpful information on Farook’s iPhone, but the future of cyber security as related to the government.
If it were simply about unlocking Farook’s phone to ensure safety, the FBI would have dealt with Apple privately rather than publicly, as they have before on multiple occasions when the company also declined to invent software that would override the iPhone’s encryption features.
The debate over whether Apple should create the software required for the task is reflective of a nation-wide crossroads. People will either argue that mobile phone users should allow the government access to private information in exchange for increased protective measures, or they will recognize the FBI’s request as being a path to the compromise of civil liberties.
“If Apple succeeds in fighting the court order, it will set up a high barrier for the FBI and the other government groups to access citizen data from now on,” said Chenxi Wang, chief strategy officer at the network security firm Twistlock, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“Apple is now viewed as the flag bearer for protecting citizen data, and if they succeed, there will be a flood of other companies following suit.”
The outcome of the case has the capacity to invalidate smart phone security as it has advanced through the past decade, endangering millions to identity theft among other serious offenses in the name of a law that is supposed to protect our country, not make it vulnerable.
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Con: National security depends on Apple’s compliance
Staff Writer Erin Dobrzyn
Everyone would like to think that they are safe online, using their smartphones and logging into social media apps. People would also like to think that they are safe going about their daily lives, attending holiday parties, and going to work to help those who are physically handicapped.
The victims of the San Bernardino shooting were doing just that when everything was uprooted by two terrorists with an agenda that is possibly hiding inside of a locked iPhone 5c.
The key to the continuing investigation into the shooting lies in the hands of Apple and the FBI, both of whom are intertwined in a battle of tug-of-war.
Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter to Apple customers that the “FBI wants us [Apple] to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
People are inseparable from their phones. To use this new technology that Apple would create, the physical phone would need to be hacked to pose some sort of security breach for the user. An iPhone is a vestigial limb for most users, who never allow their phones out of their sight.
Tech-giants have been weighing in on the situation. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is siding against Apple in this case, for reasons other than technological rivalry.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Gates defended the FBI in saying that their request was not outlandish.
“This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Gates said. “They [the FBI] are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for this particular case.”
It has also been discovered that the FBI has asked to unlock iPhones before, and Apple has complied. According to the Daily Beast, Apple has unlocked iPhones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008, and Apple does not dispute this figure.
The tensions between Apple and the FBI stemmed from an act of terrorism and aims to investigate said act. Fourteen people were killed and 22 more were injured in the San Bernardino shooting, and their loved ones want answers.
James Comey, the director of the FBI, recently weighed in on the topic from the viewpoint of the victims and their families.
“Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law,” Comey said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”
It would be despicable to not take every possible measure to examine the San Bernardino shooting. Terrorism affects everyone: families, communities, states, and nations. If there is a possibility for technology to aid in the shooting investigation, then that technology should be utilized or manufactured.
Everyone must take a moment to put themselves in the place of the victims of not only the San Bernardino shooting, but of other tragedies that have stricken the United States and other countries around the world. Most people would go to the ends of the earth to protect the ones they love, so it is important to be cognizant of the implications of ignoring technology that could begin to bring peace to families ripped apart by acts of terrorism.
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the terrorists responsible for the shooting, are dead. These two have no right to privacy. Their phone could unlock countless insights into the shooting. The benefits of unlocking their phone are innumerable.
If a person has no traces of risky or potentially incriminating information on their iPhones, in the unlikely case that it would ever need to be examined for security purposes, then they should have no reason to be worried about the technological loophole that the FBI wishes to employ for their investigation.
This “loophole”, according to tech experts at Wired.com, “is the fact that Apple still retains the ability to run crippled firmware on a device like this without requiring the user to approve it, the way software updates usually work. If this required user approval, Apple would not be able to do what the government is requesting.”
People are quick to defend their rights to privacy. What they fail to recognize is that by subscribing to the terms and conditions of many popular social media sites, for example, they abandon their privacy with the check of a box.
In 2010, Facebook silently changed every users privacy settings so that nearly every bit of information provided by the user and their usage habit became public. According to an article by the Huffington Post, information such as “birthday, gender, place of birth, religious beliefs, friends, family members, schools attended, and other intimate details would be available to anyone who wanted them.”
Things are not as private as people would like to think.
In recent history, the U.S. government has used tactics to monitor citizens’ activity in times riddled with acts of terrorism. Phones have been tapped, emails read, and surveillance watched without the public’s knowledge, all under the hand of the government.
The case with Apple is different. The government is not asking for access to every phone of every iPhone user. They are asking for the capability to unlock phones without wiping the data so that more thorough investigations can be done in times of crisis.
Gates illustrated this point in an interview with the Financial Times.
“It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records,” Gates said. “Let’s say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said, ‘Don’t make me cut this ribbon because you’ll make me cut it many times.”
If Apple was to create an iPhone with a “backdoor” to allow a brute force entrance into the device through multiple guesses at the password without wiping the system of all data, people worried about their phone’s privacy could simply create better passwords to protect themselves, ideally a six-digit code with letters and numbers .
This would be enough to keep the average hacker at bay. The entrance into the iPhone using the “backdoor” created by Apple would be left to the government if suspicions of terrorism arose.
Apple needs to comply with the FBI and unlock the iPhone of the terrorists who killed and injured many people in the San Bernardino shooting. It needs to set the precedent for tech companies to take a stand against terrorism and begin a movement towards smartphones that can aid investigations in times of crisis.