There’s no questioning Apple’s dedication to the advancement of technology, especially over the past few decades. With the iPhone being the first of many commercially available smartphones, Apple has always been at the forefront of exciting consumer technology developments. Now, however, their most important decision yet may come in the form of a face-off with the FBI.
This incident involves the encryption protocol used by Apple’s iPhones, and one high-profile device that has been controversial since December of 2015: the iPhone used by the shooter of the San Bernardino, California terrorist attacks. The FBI has issued a court order to Apple, demanding that they provide or build a backdoor for iOS that will allow them to garner information from the device. Apple has refused, and has since been duking it out with the FBI in a series of court cases. This could set a precedent that’s much larger than this individual case.
On February 16th 2016, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook issued a statement calling for a public discussion of the issue at hand, and a declaration that Apple will not comply with this demand due to the larger implications of the decision. In the past, Apple has provided data that was already in their possession for help with certain FBI investigations, but this time, Apple claims that they cannot, and will not, build a vulnerability that could potentially compromise the security of their customers. As stated in the customer letter:
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession. The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
Apple’s letter continues to explain the importance of data security not only to Apple’s customers, but to any user of modern smartphones. Plus, as developers, building a backdoor or flaw directly into their software would be straight-up unethical, not to mention the dangers that could come from such an exploit falling into the wrong hands, like hackers or other criminals.
Apple isn’t alone in this endeavor, either; technology companies are lining up behind Apple in support of their fight against the FBI. With the support of Google, Microsoft, and many other Silicon Valley giants, Apple wants its message to be heard loud and clear; by purposely building backdoors into their technology, they would be betraying the trust of their consumers, and undermining the trust that we as a society have for technology in general.
This decision by Apple could have far-reaching consequences in the form of government entities being able to infringe on the privacy of consumers… that is, if the court rules in favor of the FBI. Such a ruling would put smartphone users at the mercy of legislation that forces tech developers to comply with backdoor requests on demand, which could put the entire concept of consumer privacy in jeopardy. Plus, what would happen if these backdoors fell into the hands of hackers? Nobody can guarantee that this won’t happen, and the possibility is frightening, to say the least.
Where do you stand on smartphone encryption? Do you think that Apple has made the right choice concerning this request? Let us know in the comments.