Apple versus the FBI: which side is right?

Published 4 March 2016 | 585 words | Categories: Politics, Technology

The truth is, no one really knows. It's a complicated situation and every side has their points. I think an FBI victory could set a dangerous precedent that makes Americans less safe.

If you're unfamiliar with what's going on, here's a basic explanation: A terrorist in San Bernardino had an iPhone and the FBI wants to break in. The FBI is demanding that Apple write a program that would allow the FBI access to the iPhone. For more details Sophos has a good article.

In this case, it's unlikely the FBI will find anything of value. As admitted by the San Bernardino police chief. The shooters destroyed their personal phones beyond repair. The FBI wants to get into a work phone that was left behind. This brings up an important question. If the shooters were careful and disposed of relevant evidence, why would they leave any other evidence? I doubt they forgot about the work phone. Realistically, they didn't bother to also destroy the work phone because it was irrelevant.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said: "A successful case against Apple in the U.S. will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international IT company to safeguard their clients' privacy anywhere in the world." (Source)

Justin Mealey, a former NSA employee and CIA contractor, pointed out on Reddit that the San Bernardino phone is government property. It was a government-issued work phone. Thus the US government has a right to unlock their property. He goes on to say that "[the] privacy concerns raised by these corporations... provides no realistic benefits to the average person."

The FBI keeps saying that this is a ONE TIME ONLY thing. Except that's untrue.

Earlier this week: "Apple scored a major legal victory in its ongoing battle against the FBI on Monday when a federal magistrate judge in New York rejected the U.S. government’s request as part of a drug case to force the company to help it extract data from a locked iPhone."

It's thought that the FBI wants Apple's help in accessing over two hundred iPhones. Apple argues that this needs to stop, as it may violate 1st and 5th amendment rights. The FBI argues that this is necessary to stop terrorism. (Note: it's unlikely that the majority of these phones are from terrorists. Though I suppose anything is possible.)

There isn't an absolute correct answer right now. Apple or FBI? Your preferences will vary based on personal beliefs.

I can see why the FBI wants to win - and I don't think it's a step in the right direction. The EFF and others agree. Trading off our privacy usually isn't great.


UPDATE, 29 March 2016:

Yesterday the FBI withdrew from their fight.

"The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday that investigators were able to use a new technique to hack into an iPhone that was used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook. As a result, the government 'no longer requires the assistance from Apple' to break into the phone — and is dropping its efforts to compel Apple to crack its own iPhone encryption against its will." (Mashable)

Edward Snowden sums it up: ("Journalists: please remember that government argued for months that this was impossible, despite expert consensus.")

The FBI's entire argument was that they couldn't break into the iPhone. They argued that Apple had to be forced to write unique code to open their own product. From what I saw, few experts believed the government.

The skeptics were right all along.

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