By Kayla Ryan
Nothing gives people more sus vibes than when the federal government and its agencies step and intrude on people’s right to privacy. Back in February, while the FBI was investigating the San Bernardino shooting, it determined and publicly declared that there was no way for investigators to access information stored on the iPhone of one of the shooters, which was taken from the scene as evidence.The FBI requested that Apple design, in Apple’s words, “a backdoor to the iPhone;” they wanted Apple to create a new version of the iPhone operating system lacking many important and essential security features so that the system could be installed on the recovered iPhone. United States district courts issued at least eleven similar orders to Apple, and Apple vehemently denied these requests, objecting and challenging them. In response to Apple’s reluctance to comply, a court order was issued, mandating that Apple meet the requests and design the software.
This did not go over well with Apple. The company opposed the order, then released a statement to their customers and the general public informing them of the ongoing dispute; the statement communicated their firm opposition to the FBI’s demands and affirmed their commitment to maintaining the utmost security for Apple product users, assuring that Apple will not succumb to the FBI’s requests under any circumstances.
The Department of Justice dropped the case and the mandate on March 28th because the FBI claimed to have found a way to unlock the iPhone with help from a third party – many believe that the third party is the Israeli company Cellebrite. Asserting that Apple’s compliance and help was no longer necessary, the FBI confidently backed down and ended the legal dispute.
This doesn’t add up. In the cyber security world, information and knowledge is generally shared amongst the community, enabling individuals and companies to invest in and ensure the absolute best security and protection methods available. The FBI chose not to share how it accomplished hacking the iPhone, opting instead to keep this information confined to the government’s and the involved third party’s knowledge and access. If the government operates and exists to serve the public, wouldn’t it be in its nature to share this information? Is it not a necessary duty? The system hack can potentially be highly damaging if the details of the hacking method are discovered by an outside party; the information is hacking gold. Sharing the details of how the phone was hacked would allow Apple to update its security system to better protect the privacy of its customers, something considered vital and highly important as we grow more and more involved with technology in daily life. Why, then, is the FBI hiding this information, denying Apple access to information that could improve iPhone security and better protect people from hacking, identity theft, credit card fraud, to name a few? Is it a bluff to avoid further bad press? Did the FBI truly find a way to collect data from billions of Apple iPhones, information they do not want to share in fear of losing this novel power? Claiming that possessing this hacking ability will aid in investigations and case solving is not enough; tons of data is at risk, and our privacy and security are under threat.
The dropping of the case and the FBI’s approach to handling the conflict has caused the issue to resurface in mainstream media and in the eye of the public. Apple remains salty, garnering and sustaining the salt and support of major companies, media outlets, and a good percentage of the general public. The company has assured that it will figure out the FBI’s hacking approach and will do so as soon as possible, helping them further improve their securities systems designs for the future. When Apple fixes any system flaws, it will alert the public, but until then, the company will explore legal options to force the FBI to share its knowledge. Apple sees the FBI’s original requests and its current statements as setting a “dangerous precedent.” They are steering the conversation to lead us to question and discuss our civil liberties and our collective security and privacy. This has forced the nation to inquire how we want to approach maintaining our right to privacy in the modern digital world and where boundaries need to be set between the people, the government, and the private sector.
The dispute between Apple and the FBI was inevitably going to occur, as was the conversation it sparked. The actions and tones of both parties follow our expectations: the FBI seems sus af because they are claiming that they can hack encrypted iPhones while denying to reveal their way of doing so, making bold statements that lack proof they even possess this capability, and refusing to share the details of how the hack was executed, leading people to wonder whether or not it’s a bluff or if it’s just the FBI hiding the information to further its agenda; Apple appears committed to protecting people’s freedoms, security, and privacy in the face of this threat to individuals’ rights, as guaranteed by the fourth amendment. People’s general distrust and skepticism of the government and their dependance on and involvement with Apple products on an extremely personal level make the issue clear cut. People are unhappy with the FBI’s actions and are relying on Apple to not only continue to ensure their security but also to protect them from power grabs by the federal government.
It is ironic that people commonly bash private corporations for violating human rights while praising the government for its commitment to the common good. These people assume that the government exists to protect them, yet right now, Apple product consumers are relying on a private corporation to protect them and their government-ensured rights from the government itself! It is alarming that we are so unsure about the intentions of our government that we cannot even expect it to serve its fundamental functions. As this debate continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see if Apple continues to protect people’s right to privacy more successfully than the government does; people might discover that the government is failing at its essential role, one that can apparently be better executed by not only a private entity, but one of the largest corporations in the world.