What do you get when you mix a 227-year-old law, iPhones, federal law enforcement and terrorism? Whatever it is, put the picture of it next to the word “quandary” in the dictionary.
Apple CEO Tim Cook went public Wednesday with a letter to customers waxing philosophical about the implications of creating a master key which, to spare you the technobabble, would allow the FBI to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Many have denounced the decision, unsurprisingly including GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump who asked “who do they think they are?”
Perhaps in a more articulate prose, Shane Harris at the Daily Beast noted that Apple has played ball before in a 2015 New York court case and is only pulling an about-face because it might “tarnish the Apple brand.”
If Apple were grandstanding a bit of brand management (one could argue everything the company who’s market share is $652 billion does is brand management) they still raise some good questions about where the future of privacy and the law stand.
Edward Snowden, best known for blowing whistles, predictably supported Apple’s move to take the discussion to the public. Snowden’s tweet does raise an interesting point that the FBI is “creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.”
I don’t think Cook is resorting to whatever the liberal equivalent of fear mongering is when he says the U.S. government is asking Apple to take “an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers.”
The support the FBI is asking for would compromise the supposedly unbreakable iPhone encryption, the passcode you type in to unlock your phone. Impressive and clever self-destruct features prevent the FBI from trying multiple pass codes repeatedly, lest the phone erases all of its valuable data, and Apple programming prevents the “brute force” tactic of having random pass codes entered electronically at a high rate of speed until it eventually unlocks, the password has to be entered manually.
Apple says were it to create the software necessary to circumvent these features, it could easily be reused and retooled for future endeavours.
The clever engineering at Apple is now going up against the legal engineering of the founding fathers. The All Writs Act, as old as American law itself (not an exaggeration), essentially gives the court power to make orders in unprecedented or quirky issues that haven’t been covered in prior case law.
It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of the case at hand, especially one as horrible as the San Bernardino shooting, but moral and technological quagmires like this one have far-reaching consequences, good or bad, when the precedent is set.
Whether or not Apple is posturing as a champion of the people for their own political gain, or because they are taking a legitimate moral stance, is besides the point now.
The questions are out there, and as more and more data enters the cloud — who you are, where you were, what you said, what you saw — it is our responsibility as the pioneers in this era of information to not fall asleep at the wheel.
We’re used to living in an era where our rights were defined a long time ago, you learn about them in history class. Meanwhile governments are debating whether or not internet is a right and debates like Apple’s, while confusing and a lot to take in, are ducking important. Damn autocorrect.
Dale Boyd is a reporter at the Penticton Western News.