Apple vs. The FBI – The Fine Line Between Privacy and Security


Claire Payne, Assistant Content Editor and Staff Writer

In recent news, there was a bit of a dispute between the FBI and the tech company Apple. It started out when the U.S. Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to assist the FBI in hacking/unlocking an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino shooting. The shooting which, in December, involved two terrorists gunning down 14 people at a party in San Bernardino, California. Her exact order was for Apple to create and deliver special software to the FBI to load on the iPhone and bypass IOS’s security feature that freezes up or erases the phone after too many unsuccessful attempts at the passcode.

The FBI wants this particular iPhone because they want to know who Syed Farook, one of the shooters, was communicating with and which websites he visited leading up to the massacre. Apple already gave the FBI data that was backed up from Farook’s phone to the company’s iCloud online storage service. However, the backups only reached through October 19, which leaves an entire month and a half gap in which Farook could have been hiding something.

On one side, there is the FBI and the Department of Justice saying it’s about making sure the lives of Americans aren’t put in jeopardy, fighting terrorism, and a reasonable request to gain evidence from a single iPhone.

On the other side, there is Apple fighting to maintain the security and privacy for their customers that they have already established. They say the fight is about the US government trying to compel a public company, using a 227-year-old law, to compromise its most important products, and setting a “dangerous precedent” that would give the US government further authority to ask other businesses to change their products. Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO, published a memo to all Apple employees and outlined the explanation in a Q&A style on the website here:

Apple already said in a FAQ that it’s “certainly possible to create an entirely new operating system to undermine our features as the government wants.” Nevertheless, Cook wrote in an open letter to customers that Apple can’t just bypass those protections for a single phone and expect other phones to stay safe and secure.

In the past, Apple has complied with law enforcement, allowing them to bypass the lock screen as long as there was a valid command or a search warrant. Though in 2014, the release of IOS 8 changed the encryption software, meaning Apple no longer had the ability to extra data “because the files to be extracted are protected by an encryption key that is tied to the user’s passcode, which Apple does not possess.”

This dispute might be one of the biggest tech company-federal government wars to occur. Already, many other high-profile tech companies have started to take sides. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates disagrees with Cook, saying that this was just one particular case and that “there are sets of safeguards where the government shouldn’t have to be completely blind.” Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg sides with Apple, saying that encryption is an important tool, but that Facebook has always complied with the government with lawful requests. Yahoo Inc.’s Bob Lord tweeted, “Ordering a company to hack one targeted system is clearly the first step to ordering them to backdoor them all #slipperySlope #usersfirst.”

Overall, the situation is definitely a slippery slope. As we continue to improve our technology, the boundaries that separate the US government and our privacy will continue to weaken and be challenged. In the upcoming weeks, this technology-government conflict will create a precedent to how these situations will be handled in the future.