By Jeet Rai
Apple, one of the world’s leading technological companies, became involved with America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over the San Bernardino terrorist shooting this past year. In March, the FBI requested Apple create a new software tool to eliminate specific security procedures built into iPhones to protect consumer data in order to unlock suspected shooter’s, Syed Rizwan Farook’s, iPhone 5C.
The case spurred the ongoing encryption/backdoor debate that has plagued the Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill for the last two years. On March 28, the case was resolved when the Justice Department successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and no longer needed Apple’s court-ordered help in obtaining it. Though the move averted a courtroom showdown pitting Apple against the government, it only raised integral privacy concerns.
While the government contends to protect the general welfare of society and accuses Apple of the fetishization of digital security, Apple rightfully argues that forcing their company to create such software violates the company’s constitutional rights and weakens privacy for users around the world.
Apple is justified in refusing to assist the government in hacking into the potential suspect’s phone primarily because of the implications it would raise concerning the general security of American privacy.
“Asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers – including tens of millions of American citizens – from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said to the Los Angeles Times.
Encryption is what keeps communications between parties safe from prying eyes. Encryption shields sensitive data, such as medical records and banking information, and makes it possible to send confidential documents. But this case threatens encryption completely, and the perpetrator is the U.S. government.
The case proves its relevance to phone users everywhere, particularly those with phones that can be unlocked with a fingerprint. If a person has arrest records, a law enforcement agency already has their fingerprints. It wouldn’t be difficult to transfer them onto a model to unlock the data on the seized phone. In the case between Apple and the government, it is unclear who technically owns the right to the fingerprint. We must ask ourselves, once the data is in a government database, does the FBI have the legal clearance to use it to unlock any device?
The answer seems absolutely indisputable. The right to privacy is a protected right under the constitution. Although in this day and age, it seems nonexistent, it is still a right and needs to be treated as such.
Apple vs. FBI is more than just a debate about authority accessing information from devices. It is a call for lawmakers to acknowledge future technologies and depoliticize them. Like it or not, they must play an informed, active role in how technology interacts with American society.
“It is frightening to think we live in a world where every email, phone call, and picture can be accessed at the whim of law enforcement, all without due process,” senior Nicholas Genna said.