Apple vs. FBI: A Clash Between Privacy and Security

Over the past week and a half, there has been much action involving one major U.S. company and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last week, the FBI requested that Apple unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the two terrorists in the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, which took the lives of fourteen people in early December. The FBI has not been able to unlock the phone’s password on its own, and due to Apple’s security features, which involves the phone being cleared of memory after a certain amount of failed passcode entries, the company does not have a way to unlock their own phones. Essentially, the FBI is requesting that Apple creates a new version of the iOS software that will allow them to unlock the phone.  

Apple denied the FBI’s offer and eventual court order, as they believe the software would create a “backdoor” that the government would be able to use for further cases involving criminals and potentially innocent citizens. They believe that this would be a violation of privacy in that the basic iPhone password used to protect people’s privacy would really be useless in the face of law enforcement. From Apple’s point of view, they think that it will lead to the government unnecessarily unlocking other people’s phones. Apple CEO Tim Cook released a statement titled “Customer Letter” that Apple posted on their website on February 16 that highlighted many of their beliefs regarding the situation. Here’s an excerpt: 

“All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.”

“The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.”

He explains that Apple has no sympathy for terrorists and that Apple has provided the FBI with all possible requested data within their reach that will help them solve the case. With that being said, Apple is standing by its decision and publicly challenging the FBI’s demands, as Apple believes that the FBI’s request goes against the freedoms and rights that the government is meant to protect and uphold. Overall, Cook is justifying that Apple is standing for the privacy and betterment of its consumers.


Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo credit:

Several other companies and important figures have spoken out in the face of this privacy/security legal showdown. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and much of Silicon Valley have stood by and applauded Apple’s decision. Bill Gates, on the other hand, spoke out and took a stance in opposition to Apple’s decision. In an interview with the Financial Times, he stated, “This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information. They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case.” However, he later spoke out again and said he was misunderstood in his interview with The Financial Times, explaining that the courts would, in the end, decide the outcome of this dispute.

For most of us, as consumers and users of technology, this situation is important as it displays a clash between personal privacy and national security. It could directly impact our privacy in our devices and technology, but also affects the power of the national government and their duties to help keep the U.S. as secure as possible. It is hard to argue against finding out as much about a terrorist as possible, assuming the phone would have information regarding the terrorist’s roots or background. However, Apple generates a very strong argument with respect to our privacy rights and keeping our personal data safe. One can expect to see this heated legal showdown unravel in the next few months in the courts, as Apple has shown that they will not let down easily.

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Jack is a senior, probably.