By Reid Goldsborough
In investigating a terrorist attack on U.S.
soil that took 14 lives, should the FBI be able to unlock a dead
terrorist's iPhone? The U.S. government thinks it should. Apple Inc.
In an open letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim
Cook explains, "We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as
an overreach by the U.S. government. Ultimately, we fear that this
demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is
meant to protect."
The government feels Apple is using this
incident to boost profits, advertising to customers and prospects it
will protect their privacy no matter what. The Justice Department
explains Apple's opposition appears "to be based on its concern for its
business model and public brand marketing strategy."
tapping into widespread public concerns about the government prying into
private matters. But the public seems to be supporting the government
on this issue, believing that stopping future terrorist attacks trumps a
dead terrorist's right to privacy.
According to a February poll
from Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Americans believe Apple should
assist the FBI in unlocking the phone, while 38 percent disagree and 11
percent don't know which side to take.
The iPhone 5c in question
was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists involved in an
attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 2, 2015, that caused the death of
14 innocent people and injured 22 others.
With some exceptions, tech industry leaders have lined up behind Apple.
Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, tweeted, "We stand with @tim_cook and Apple
(and thank him for his leadership)!" Jan Koum, cofounder of the
messaging service WhatsApp, said on Facebook that he "couldn't agree
more with everything said in [Apple's] Customer Letter today. We must
not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our
liberty is at stake."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he feels
Facebook has a responsibility to help prevent terrorist attacks, but
that "we're sympathetic with Apple on this one." Google CEO Sundar
Pichai said, "Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise
Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates, on
the other hand, sided with the FBI, contending that the government's
request is no different from getting access to telephone or bank
records, as long as the right safeguards are in place. To access private
telephone and bank records, the government needs a court order, with
this check and balance among branches of the government designed to
Apple also is tapping into distrust of the
government fueled by the actions of former CIA employee Edward Snowden,
who copied and released classified information from the U.S. National
Security Agency in 2013 revealing abuses in U.S government global
It's the job of government security
agencies to help protect the country from terrorist attacks. The failure
of the FBI and the CIA to coordinate the information they previously
gathered was a key factor allowing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to
happen in 2001.
Regardless of how Apple's situation plays out,
there's bound to be more incidents like this in the future. Other recent
news is illustrative.
The encrypted messaging app Telegram in
February announced its user base had exceeded 100 million people
worldwide. Telegram, founded in Russia in 2013, has been called "the
world's most controversial messaging platform" because it allows anyone
to text using a smartphone without fear of being monitored by government
Islamic terrorists used the app last fall to
coordinate the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129
people. ISIL previously used it to broadcast propaganda.
February, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles was
hacked, preventing it from carrying out the business of treating
patients with the help of its computer equipment. It assented to
hacker's demands by paying them $17,000 through the encrypted,
difficult-to-trace payment network Bitcoin.
Clearly, we benefit
from both privacy and security. Striking the right balance between the
sometimes-competing ideals of privacy and security will be a challenge
for governments and the tech industry in the months and years ahead.