[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he FBI and Apple Inc. have been locked in a heated legal dispute for the past several days over the iPhone 5c of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI wants to gather intel from Farook’s phone that could aid investigation. The problem? Farook left a passcode on his iPhone (you know, that four-digit password thing) that they can’t bypass, and Apple refuses to help.
This legal battle between the two parties has evolved into more than just a case of unlocking an iPhone. It has become a fundamental dispute between two diametrically opposed ideals — privacy vs. security. Put simply, Apple’s decision may not be popular with everybody, but it is the right thing to do.
Here’s an extremely simplified version of the two sides’ wishes.
FBI: Hey Apple, we need to access this phone’s contents. Here’s a court order citing the All Writs Act (1789). If we guess incorrectly 10 times we’ll be locked out forever, so just build us a new iOS that will unlock the phone. We’ll only use it this one time. Trust us.
Apple: Nope. We won’t do that. We value all our customers’ privacy. We will not build a ‘backdoor’ into the iPhone with a new OS that could be used on millions of other people. This sets a dangerous precedent and there’s no way to guarantee it will be used only once.
The government’s demands could open the doors for anybody else to exploit.
It is easy to see the US government’s position. This data could help track accomplices in the San Bernardino shooting, as well as prevent future attacks from occurring. However, this isn’t simply information that’s being requested. The FBI is demanding Apple create a backdoor that could be exploited by others.
In his open letter to customers released Wednesday, February 17, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his decision to maintain the privacy of an iPhone’s contents. “Ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect,” he writes.
Many groups and individuals from Silicon Valley have echoed Cook’s position. The industry group Reform Government Surveillance, comprising of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and other tech giants, stated on its Tumblr blog that “technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure.”
John McAfee, libertarian presidential candidate and developer of the first commercial anti-virus program, recently offered on a CNBC video to hack into iPhone with his team as a means of avoid the “end of America.” He went on to say that “there has never been a backdoor that has not been hacked by bad hackers or foreign nations [. . .] We’re on the verge of cyber war with China [. . .] it is nonsense to ask [for a backdoor into technology].”
These backdoors will be exploited by the bad guys if they exist — oppressive regimes, terrorist groups, malicious hackers, and anybody else who is not your friend. Your personal information, trivial and important, is very valuable and can be used against you. How much data would you like to keep private on your phone? Contacts, messages, photos, your GPS trackings, purchases, credit card info, health info, account information, and yes, your Internet browsing history.
We students living in one of the most peaceful countries in the world may not fear the U.S. government, but sadly, many other countries do not have good government. The government’s demands could open the doors for anybody else to exploit. This isn’t only about this one case, this is about the future of our security. And that is why I support Apple’s decision to maintain user privacy.