Most people who have been following the political cycle recently, and many who have not, are probably aware of the court case involving Apple and their refusal to create software that could allow them to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. Even some of the presidential candidates have weighed in. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both declined to take a side in the debate. Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump believe that Apple should comply with the order, with Trump, who apparently thinks he is running for king and not president, going so far as to say he would force Apple to comply if he were elected. Marco Rubio stated that Apple should “voluntarily comply,” but also warned of the possible dangers if they do. Former candidate Rand Paul, on the other hand, said that Apple should not be forced to comply.
Specifically, what the FBI wants Apple to do is to create two different kinds of software. Farook’s iPhone 5c is locked with a four-digit passcode. If entered incorrectly enough times, the phone will lock down and the only way to restore it is to reset it to factory settings, erasing all of its data. The first piece of proposed software would eliminate this factor, allowing codes to be entered indefinitely. The second piece would allow a computer to enter thousands of codes at once. If both were implemented, the user could unlock the phone and recover all of its data without knowing the passcode.
What’s interesting about those who are defending the FBI is that they argue that if created, this software’s use would stay relegated to a single phone. If history has proven anything, it is that no weapon ever created has ever been used only once, and before you accuse me of calling the proposed software a weapon, please realize that yes, I am absolutely calling it that. Once Apple creates this software, there will be no going back. It would reverse decades of Apple’s progress in creating almost impenetrable encryption. Any hacker who got their hands on it could unlock any iPhone, even remotely, and steal someone’s information. However, that’s not the worst danger. The worst danger is that the government will use it to spy on citizens. If the software is created, this danger will become an absolute certainty. The government already collects emails, Internet records, and phone records from citizens. Does anyone really think they will not do the same with iPhones?
Some people argue that they need to know citizen’s private information in order to keep us safe. If we can’t preemptively stop terrorism, they argue, people will die, and how will we know who the terrorists are without searching people’s private information and finding out? The problem with this argument is that not only have no terrorist attacks ever been stopped in this way, but the right to privacy and being left alone is a fundamental human right. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says that in order to search someone’s property, a warrant needs to be issued by a judge on probable cause that a crime was committed. People need the right to live their lives freely without government intrusion.
However, there is also an argument to be made from the First Amendment. Apple has contended that being forced to write code they disagree with violates their right to free speech. Should Apple be compelled to do something they believe is wrong?
Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that, if necessary, he will take the case to the Supreme Court, and that possibility seems extremely likely. For the good of the country, let’s hope they make the right decision. The rights of every American hang in the balance.