A new era of privacy; Apple and FBI clash on encryption


By Jannah Kalai
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The Dec. 2, 2015 mass shooting on the San Bernardino Department of Public Health training event and holiday party heightened waves of xenophobia throughout western Europe and the United States, as the event was identified as the “worst” terrorist attack since Sept. 11. With the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requesting access to one of the terrorists’ phones, Apple has declined in order to safekeep the privacy of their customers and avoid the abuse of this “backdoor.” This intelligence agency versus private company debate is a blimp in a larger, more prominent problem. What stipulates terrorism has not been defined by the rules and regulations set to monitor technological devices; to attack one iPhone is to attack the well-being of all cellphones and cellphone users. Without the proper statutes to recognize this meaning, and the definitive laws that sets government on the same level as the advancements in technology, there will be no restitution, for anyone.

Of the two self-proclaimed terrorists of the San Bernardino shooting, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, Farook’s phone was recovered by the FBI. The FBI are requesting Apple to unlock the phone under the auspices that material connecting Farook and Malik to other incidents or more information about coordinated terrorist attacks would be found. The divide in this debate came on Feb. 16 when Apple publicly refused a court order to open the phone. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, argued, “Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.” Some side with the FBI, pleading for Apple to think of the families of those who were killed, and to understand the FBI wants to use Apple technology to open one specific phone, and that they will not use the technology again. Others see a larger picture, with the personal security of all Apple iPhones, and possibly to a greater extent, cellphone users hanging in the balance. It is important in this situation to analyze the larger compromising stalemate we have undoubtedly locked ourselves in. The issue is an issue of privacy. Privacy is a human right—and this isn’t to say that it cannot be regulated and dictated to an extent by legal boundaries. Technology is a new interface that laws must apply to, and without this protection, there will be no restitution for their side of this debate.

Take, for instance, that there is no terrorist material or aiding information found on the phone—what next? San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan stated in an interview with NPR, “I’ll be honest with you, I think that there is a reasonably good chance that there is nothing of any value on the phone. What we are hoping might be on the phone would be potential contacts that we would obviously want to talk to.” And what of the technology used to infiltrate the data? Cook weighs in with his view, “Specifically, the FBI wants us 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 possession.” From cybercriminals to sophisticated hackers, Cook emphasizes his opinion on not looking at this case-by-case, “The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices.” This case, and the larger root that this case has brought to public scrutiny, will not move forward until a compromise is met; incorporating both the protection of human privacy and cooperation with law enforcement without endangering the lives and security of hundreds or millions of American citizens.

It is government control versus national security—or so it is said. The families of those killed in the San Bernardino attacks deserve what the FBI claims the iPhone’s information could provide and more; innocent lives were lost and that is an undeniable stipulation. Neither Apple or the FBI condones this tragic act of terrorism, and it is clear that technology has advanced past government regulation. The next step is to ensure that we never have a debate over “what constitutes the power of technological corporations” without infringing the rights of the public. The scale between national security and government control is not heavily tipped to one side; giving the government unprecedented power would mean losing national security in the balance.