Support Apple’s resistance to FBI’s demands to unlock phone
Today’s society has become so dependent on technology that our phones store everything from our credit card information to our home address and several other pieces of incriminating information.
With this in mind, personal technology could also be used as a powerful tool in law enforcement. In the case of the San Bernardino shooting on Dec. 3, 2015, Apple has refused to release the iPhone data of suspect Syed Rizwan Farook.
According to a Feb. 17 Washington Post article discussing the battle between the tech giant and the government, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “The U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”
Apple has been justified in its resistance to the FBI’s requests, but that does not mean that Farook’s phone should be left untouched. According to a March 21 New York Times article, the FBI might have found a way to unlock the phone without Apple’s help, and if that ends up being ineffective, the better — and less risky — option than Apple creating a backdoor is for the National Security Agency to get involved. This way, Apple is not putting its customers at risk, and the FBI still gets their desired information.
The FBI is looking for access to Farook’s phone “in the hopes of gaining crucial evidence,” as stated by the Justice Department or in hopes of finding “relevant, critical communications and data,” according to a Feb. 16 Washington Post article.
Alas, the only way for the average person to access his phone would be to manually enter the password. With newer iPhones, the password is encrypted into the phone, and without the password, it is nearly impossible to manually access the phone. Due to this updated technology, the user has ultimate control of the phone and its ease of access.
According to a Feb. 17 Washington Post article, U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym requested that Apple generate a software that can be used only to access the phone at the center of the case, but this is something that Apple views as unethical. In a March 17 interview with TIME, Cook agreed that this case is similar to one that had previously occurred in which Apple was able to extract data from a man’s phone. The case involved a Brooklyn drug dealer, and when the court reached out to Apple to retrieve data from the man’s phone, they agreed to do so.
The difference now, however, is that Apple feels that this case is not in concordance with the All Writs Act, which essentially grants the government the right to use all resources needed to make a judiciary decision. In U.S. v. New York Telephone Company in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the implementation of a “tap and track” service to catch wanted gamblers. Apple is using this ruling as justification for their refusal to comply with the FBI’s requests: As Cook said, “we’ve never been asked to do what we’ve been asked to do now … we don’t think the government has the authority to do this.”
Now, this does not mean that Apple did not attempt to aid the FBI in any way; some of Apple’s engineers had been sent over to see if there was any way to access the phone’s information without creating a backdoor — but to no avail.
The issue arose when a court order demanded that Apple create a “Government OS” that lacks security features. In the same TIME interview, Cook said, “From a customer point of view it wasn’t good, because it would wind up putting millions of customers at risk, making them more vulnerable. In addition, we felt like it trampled on civil liberties.”
This is where the real conflict arises. Should Apple release a security-free operating system that can be used for cases like this, or should they withhold such information to protect the civil rights of their customers?
If Apple were to generate such a software, it could be used with malicious intent by people other than the U.S. government and lead to massive breaches. Beyond that, there needs to be some sort of confidentiality between the company and their customers. If all user information is released, who is to say that our every move cannot be tracked by Apple or that they will not automatically access iPhone cameras at any moment they feel it is necessary? With conspiracy theories galore, some may argue that Apple might already do this, but even if they do, the threat will become even more viable if they publicly breach the trust built with customers. If the line is not drawn somewhere, the possibilities are limitless. According to Tim Cook, “No one should have a key that turns a billion locks.”
However, even if the FBI cannot access this phone, the government already has the power to access this phone and many others. According to a March 17 Forbes Article, the NSA could supply their “zero-day” exploit services to the FBI, but they do not deem it necessary. In this same article, a former NSA computer scientist is quoted as saying, “The NSA might not want to burn its exploits on that iPhone.” The zero-day exploit service essentially entails the NSA manipulating any weaknesses within Apple’s programing as soon as it was discovered — hence the name zero day. They would search for any weakness in the initial code which ran when the iPhone was first turned on. If a weakness was found there, the code could be altered, thus granting access to the phone. Sadly, the NSA believes that their limited resources should not be used on an operation to hack into an iPhone.
Since there actually is a means of accessing the content of Farook’s phone, there is no problem with doing so. There is no way of knowing whether he was in contact with anyone else or if the intent behind his attack would be revealed.
If the FBI cannot open the phone without outside help, seeking aid from the NSA seems like a far better option than Apple compromising the security of its company and all of its customers through generating a security-free operating system. Apple standing by its convictions is worthwhile because if they just succumbed to the government, the outcome could be far worse than the situation at hand. Millions of iPhone users could be at risk through the creation of a security-free operating system. Granted, this will not be the one issued to the public, but anyone could get access to it and misuse it.