The Apple iPhone 5s, the same version used by Syed Rizan Farook, one of the alleged terrorists in the San Bernardino, CA killing of 14 people.
It is an issue fraught with emotion, politics, economics, law, and morality and has become the focus of not only Apple, the target of the court order, or the FBI, which is investigating the San Bernardino shootings and who took Apple to court, but advocates of digital privacy, other technology companies, the Obama Administration and, not surprisingly, social media.
The question at hand? Should a maker of a smartphone be forced to decrypt the privacy software of a phone that belonged to an alleged terrorist so that a federal agency can access the suspect’s information stored on that smartphone?
Victims of the San Bernardino shooting being attended to by responders.
Apple, the world’s largest company and maker of the smartphone under issue, says no. The order would violate its business, legal, and moral obligations to its customers, its lawyers and CEO argue. In addition, Apple says it does not have the ability to carry out the court’s order because of the way its encryption software is configured. Technologists disagree.
Apple and advocates of digital privacy say that if Apple were forced to create a “backdoor” to its encrypted phone software it would “set a dangerous precedent” for a company, CEO Timothy Cook said in a letter to customers about Apple’s decision. It would be “compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk…[and] if you place any value on civil liberties, you don’t do what law enforcement is asking,” Cook said.
Already social media is weighing in on the matter, many of them with thoughtful, creative, and serious-intended responses.
Here are a few for consideration:
“This is not a fishing expedition. It is a single request for a single telephone in the aftermath of a heinous act, a request that has the imprimatur of a legally sought and granted court order.”
“Tell Apple to delete the passcode protection on the phone in its own laboratories. The FBI would be present but would have no access to the programming fix.”
“Unlocking this particular phone does not threaten my privacy, but protecting the privacy of people like terrorists threatens all of our safety.”
“Why doesn’t the FBI release the phone to Apple and allow them to access the device instead of needing a backdoor specially designed for them?”
And this suggestion from a coder that could have come out of Michael Saylor’s The Mobile Wave about software keys and “a software company re-imagining keys altogether” that would “only be valid for a two-hour time period [that the owner] would stipulate and then it would expire” (p. 15).
Similarly, the coder writing about the Apple iPhone encryption issue said that both parties, Apple and the FBI, could be satisfied, offering this solution: “I know there is always a way to code something with ethical limitations. For example, Apple could create a temporary, self-destructing device ID that must be issued from Apple and is only accessible within a certain time frame, and with a certain algorithm. Apple could hold that temporary ID and grant access on a case-by-case basis, rendering ‘back door’ useless without it.” And then he added, “This may sound complicated, but from a coding perspective, it’s not.”
Which left me with the thought that maybe Apple and the FBI are making more out of this than is warranted, the weighty issues notwithstanding.
There is a lot of blame to go around on this issue, it seems. For one, why did the FBI go public with its enforcement request, antagonizing Apple and forcing it into a public position rather than handling it discreetly that could have been mutually agreeable with the FBI’s legitimate investigative needs and Apple’s mission of protecting users’ digital privacy? In other words, could there have been a better way to handle this than through litigation? Litigation, in my opinion, is a blunt instrument that oftentimes is incapable of solving thorny and complicated issues.
Having said that, social media has raised its collective hand and come forth, in my view, with reasoned, balanced solutions. Chalk one up for the Internet
Social media responses gathered and aggregated by the NY Times’ reporter, Marie Tae McDermott, can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/technology/apple-fbi-reaction.html?_r=0.