Privacy is freedom from unauthorized intrusion. In the modern age, we bear a moral obligation to extend the concept of privacy to the internet and digital media. But, ever since 9/11 and the Patriot Act that followed, we Americans have slowly given up our rights to privacy in the name of national security. Many have also given it up willingly to private companies, such as Facebook or Google, which have used our data—search histories, facebook posts and what we buy—to create targeted advertising and then sell it to advertisers and other companies.
This issue of privacy has been especially relevant in the years since Edward Snowden leaked large amounts of information on global surveillance programs. Recently the issue of privacy has come up again in the middle of February when the FBI asked Apple to decrypt the iPhone of one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino, California terrorist attacks, Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple immediately responded with a letter from CEO Tim Cook to its customers. This letter explained why encryption is needed and what the FBI is asking for and the ramifications of these actions.
Encryption is essentially a method of encoding data that makes it incredibly difficult for someone to gain access to it.
This process has evolved over decades and with today’s technology it would take an incredibly long time to decrypt encrypted data. The bureau is now asking Apple to create a new version of the iPhone’s operating system that does not have most of these security features, and then install it on the iPhone of one of the perpetrators, thereby allowing the bureau to access the data stored on the phone. The FBI has good intentions. They want to solve the San Bernardino case and possibly use this data to help solve other cases or catch more terrorists inside the United States.
However, these requests carry ramifications that the FBI just clearly doesn’t care about. If Apple were to create this decrypted operating system, it would essentially give the FBI a tool to unlock any iPhone that they have in their possession; a master key of sorts. The FBI is asking Apple to undermine years of work and make their millions of customers vulnerable to a cyber intrusion, not just at the behest the U.S. government, but from any number of cyber criminals.
The other major issue with the bureau’s request is their justification. They are not asking for Congress to give them permission. They are relying on the All Writs Act of 1789, a law which gives a court the authority to order companies to assist law enforcement agencies. This is a complete overreach of the government, and if courts rule in their favor, it would give them virtually unrestricted access to any American citizen’s data.
Luckily, Apple has recently won a major court case that is similar in nature to the San Bernardino case. In this case, a federal judge has ruled that the government can not force Apple to help it unlock a drug dealer’s iPhone. Hopefully this ruling will set the precedent for the San Bernardino case, and prevent the government from further attempting to violate the privacy of the American people.
Many public figures have weighed in on this debate. Major tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter stand with Apple. However, many political figures on both sides of the aisle, such as Donald Trump, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Tom Cotton agree that the FBI should be able to force Apple to hand over the data.
Although the intentions of the FBI’s request may be patriotic, the ramifications of what may follow if Apple acquiesces are far too dangerous for the latter to grant it.