When government and technology intersect dangerously
On Dec. 2, 2015, 14 were killed and 22 injured in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The act was cited as terrorism after CNN reported that ISIS claimed the shooters were their supporters. This came less than a month after a terrorist attack on Paris that killed 130. After the shooting, according to NPR, the FBI managed to obtain an iPhone used by the male attacker, Syed Rizwan Farook, and has struggled to unlock the phone since. The agency has yet to unlock the system, as Apple’s security features prevent them from easily breaking in.
Fast forward to Feb. 16, 2016: a California court orders Apple to comply with the FBI, citing the All Writs Act of 1789. The act can only be cited in a situation where there is no previous law applicable, there are extraordinary circumstances — connecting the business and the investigation — and there is no unreasonable burden to the company. The FBI claims that this act requires Apple to create what would be considered a back door to the iPhone, allowing the use of “brute force,” or the input of millions of possible passcode combinations at a fast pace until the iPhone is unlocked. While Apple is capable of creating such a program, the Daily Dot says the request doesn’t fit the final criteria for the All Writs Act; creating such a program is considered an unreasonable burden because of the amount of security needed to protect such information, and it is too risky for its consumers and the safety of their data. In a statement released by Apple on its website, it claims that it has done everything they can to help, and that while it has “no sympathy for terrorists,” it won’t create a program with these abilities.
By creating such a system, Apple fears that the information could fall into the wrong hands, leading to phones of innocent people being hacked and jeopardizing the safety of the information people store on their phones. There’s also talk of whether or not the government should be able to force this on Apple, as it would extend the power of the government further than it already is — calling into question what is considered too far.
Allowing the government the capability to break into this one phone would give it no reason to be denied access to any other phone. CNN money reports that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance would authorize this technology to be used on 175 other phones; Vance strongly believes that the recent enhanced security of smartphones is what causes many cases to “go cold,” and is pushing for a federal law that would ban a company from selling a smartphone in the United States unless they can unlock it.
This is concerning, as it looks like there are no lines being drawn as to what types of instances this software would be accessible to the government. Cases like child pornography and drug dealing could follow as the next reasonings for the government to break into smartphones. The Media Institute also believes that if this capability is available under a stricter government rule, it could allow the access to the phones of journalists, The New York Times reported. This not only creates a breach of citizens’ privacy, but could also call into question freedom of speech.
There have been many sides taken on this argument. Social media and large technology companies — Google, Amazon, Facebook and more than 40 others — have signed briefs supporting Apple and their decision to put the consumer first. Law enforcement groups and family members of the shooting victims support the government and their wishes. Robert Velasco, who lost his daughter Yvette Velasco in the shooting, sides with the government, saying, “I am seeking justice for my daughter,” CBS reported.
However, not all family members of the victims support the government. Anies Kondoker’s husband Salihin believes that “Apple’s fight was about something bigger than one phone,” sharing the fear of government overreach and invasion of privacy. Anies was shot during the attack, but survived, The New York Times reported.
Less than 24 hours before the March 22 court hearing, the government requested that the hearing be put on hold, as it claims there is a third party that could break into the phone, the Washington Post reported. This still is concerning, as it means that there are other ways for hackers to break into phones and access the information on them.
The idea that the government can break into anyone’s phone with just a warrant is more than a small violation. There are no lines drawn as to where they can and can’t use this technology, and if a company with the intelligence and power of Apple believes it will be difficult and dangerous to create and destroy such a program, then it shouldn’t be done. Apple has proven that it is constantly making their systems more secure for its customers, as they know that people use their phones in many aspects of their lives. The stance Apple is continuing to take against the government in the interest of the people allows those who use iPhones to place faith in the company. Everyday people will continue to feel safe about what information they are storing on their phones, knowing it is safe from any potential hackers.
Sara Belcher is a first-year journalism major who doesn’t want anyone breaking her passcode, thank you very much. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.