In December 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook opened fire at an office party in San Bernardino, California. The incident has since been labeled as a terrorist attack; however nothing has been proven as yet.
Our interest in the story stems from the fact that in the case that’s being built around Farook, the State (The US Government) claims that he may have coordinated the attack on an iPhone 5c.
“Since then, authorities have been trying to decrypt the device. And now, a U.S. magistrate is trying to force Apple to unlock it. Yesterday, U.S. magistrate judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to give the FBI a custom firmware file that would let the bureau unlock an iPhone 5c running iOS 9.” Reports CultOfMac.
The Implications of the Order:
The FBI has asked Apple to create a new version of the iOS that bypasses the security firewalls built into an iPhone (allegedly belonging to Mr. Farook) that was recovered during the investigation. Essentially, the FBI wants a code that can provide a “backdoor access” into iPhones.
There are two issues here:
- To start off, it is not clear whether Apple can actually fulfill the order. Apple stopped storing encryption keys after iOS 8, and Cupertino claimed it would be impossible to bypass the passcodes to access any iOS device running that version of the software.
- Let’s assume it can. And let’s assume it gives such a backdoor entry to FBI. What’s the guarantee that the government will not misuse it in the future? As Apple explains, “Such a software would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.” Would you be comfortable with the government having such a powerful tool? Something that can rip apart your privacy in a matter of seconds?
The Resistance by Apple
Understandably, Apple has made it clear that it will not co-operate. They explained the situation in an open letter to the public:
The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
On the outset, it might seem that Apple is dead wrong in denying access to an alleged terrorist’s iPhone. However, Apple, the rest of the tech world, and anyone that stores personal information on an iPhone, would face a serious risk from attackers if a backdoor was created.
Support For Apple
Other giants of the tech industry may fight Apple when it comes to products and services, but on this issue, they stand united. Microsoft announced in a statement that “Technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure.”
Jan Koum, the CEO of WhatsApp, shared Apple’s letter on his Facebook wall, adding that, “We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.”
Similar words solidarity have come pouring in from all parts of the tech world. Apple has gained support from the general public as well.
A crowd of people appeared in front of the Apple Store in San Francisco, protesting the government’s pressure on Apple to give up private information. Apple has even managed to gain support from a lot of people through multiple online petitions. The irony is that the most successful one is on the White House’s own petition site.
Words of Discouragement
Not all has been silver lined clouds for Apple. A lot of activists/groups have risen up against the iPhone manufacturer, condemning it for withholding information that could possibly affect national security.
Most high profile of these opposers is definitely the presidential candidate Donald Trump. When asked by Fox and Friends about Apple’s responsibility to help with the investigation, Mr. Trump had this to say, “Who do [Apple] think they are? They have to open it up.”
An Indication of Things to Come
With each passing day, the digital world is getting more and more intertwined with our physical world. Occurrences such as these are only going to become more commonplace. An example of this was an incident where a widow was unable to use an iPad left to her by her deceased husband, because she didn’t have the password to his Apple ID, and Apple refused to provide it.
Our world is still trying to figure out a point of balance between online privacy and security concerns. Solid legal groundwork that deals with various issues like ownership, inheritance, privacy, etc of digital media is the need of the hour. In the meantime, we have to be our own judges and use our moral compass to determine what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s permissible.