Point, Counter-Point: FBI vs. Apple

Eric Ahern

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Point, Counter-Point: FBI vs. Apple

A topic that has recently surfaced in conversations held in Silicon Valley, throughout the halls of Redwood and ultimately worldwide, is whether or not the conglomerate technology company, Apple Inc., should assist the FBI by unlocking an iPhone formerly owned by one of the two terrorists known to be involved with the San Bernardino shooting in December of 2015.

The case was settled last week when the FBI announced that they could continue without Apple’s help; however, the argument has not ceased, only evolved. Instead of asking “should Apple assist the FBI,” people are now wondering if the company “should have assisted the FBI.” The issue of national security vs. privacy is up for debate in the aftermath of the case.

 

Pro-Apple: Allowing access is a threat to civil liberties

By Andrew Hout

It is time for Americans to draw the line on the government’s ability to encroach upon our civil liberties.

The U.S. government does not have the best track record when it comes to respecting the privacy of its citizens. The Edward Snowden leaks that took the public by storm in 2013 are great examples of how the government lied to its people in order to collect information on communications activities. Had the unlocking algorithm been created in the Apple vs. FBI case, it would have opened Pandora’s box for future abuse.

The FBI claims that they only wanted to use this technology to open this one iPhone, but contradicted themselves by making several extra requests to use the technology throughout the  case. Basically, if the FBI had won, they would have been able to strong arm Apple into letting them use the algorithm whenever they wanted by using the court decision as leverage.

But so what? One might wonder why the creation of this technology would have been so consequential if it’s in the hands of the U.S. government.

The truth is that government agencies can’t be trusted with the ability to access private information, because they have exploited that ability in the past to gain information.

A compelling example of a blatant violation of privacy is the NSA program Stellar Winds. This program’s activities involve “data mining” a large database of communications through e-mail, telephone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity. Not only could they see who communicates with whom, but more importantly they can see exactly what was said.

Another example of government surveillance is the NSA program PRISM, which was designed to collect Internet communications from nine major U.S. internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Skype, and Microsoft. These companies could not disobey because they were legally bound to give up the information due to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

This unlocking technology could be worse, however, in the hands of other authoritarian regimes, like China’s, which could use the algorithm to conduct heavy surveillance on activists or journalists who are often already censored. Chinese officials could pressure Apple, for example, to give it up to them or face reduced sales in China.

But so what? Many could argue that they have nothing to hide from the government.

This attitude, however, does not represent American ideals. Glenn Greenwald, the author of No Place to Hide and Guardian reporter of the NSA leaks, convincingly disqualified these beliefs when he wrote, “The true measure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents and other marginalized groups, not how it treats good loyalists.”

The threat of surveillance at times promotes “desirable behavior.” A poll done by Amnesty International revealed that 42 percent across all countries polled believe that surveillance would inhibit their Internet usage. This might seem obvious, but in truth, surveillance has the effect of controlling populations because no one acts out when they are being watched.

Apple’s creation of this type of program would have only been harmful to average citizens because it is a gateway into the government’s total control of privacy and a theoretical one-way mirror when it comes to personal information. Apple is one of the few massive technological companies that has withstood the aggressive requests from government organizations to blindly hand over every user’s private information. Apple stood strong and did not let these agencies cloud the public’s vision with constant reiteration of scare tactics.

Believe it or not, one’s stance on this issue is unaffected by political ideology. This is an issue of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees every citizen the civil liberties of privacy from unreasonable searches or seizures. Civil liberties are essential to the functionality of a society, and it is not within the government’s rights to possess this decryption technology.

 

Pro-FBI: Apple should act to help national security

By Eric Ahern

With access to the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, the FBI can now potentially determine the distributor from whom the shooters received the firearms and explosives that would go on to be used for the slaughter of 14 innocent civilians and the injuring of 22 more in an attack targeted at a center for people with developmental disabilities. They can also discover who the terrorists were communicating with about the attacks, the procedures they took to plan the attacks and whether more attacks were or still are being planned.

Despite the fact that it is clearly possible that the FBI and other government agencies could prevent further attacks and fight the war on terror by obtaining access to the information that may be residing in the shooter’s iPhone, after being handed a multitude of court orders, Apple refused to comply. In a letter to all Apple customers, CEO Tim Cook referred the requests of the FBI as “chilling.” Cook also stated that the company is “challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country,” but the consequences that could stem from Apple’s decision are incredibly contradictory to Cook’s statement.

If the company truly cared for the individual lives of American citizens, then wouldn’t they want to defend them? Wouldn’t they want to do anything in their ability to keep them out of harm’s way? Being one of the world’s most powerful companies, economically and socially, it is Apple’s responsibility to act accordingly by holding itself accountable for its technology.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center prior to the closing of the case found that while 11 percent of Americans abstain from choosing a side, 51 percent of the nation’s citizens believe that Apple should assist the FBI.

In addition to more than half of the American public, Bill Gates, the father of Microsoft and an incredibly influential force within the tech industry, argued that it is only right for Apple to have followed along with the court order. However, 38 percent of citizens who were polled sided with Apple’s choice to not assist law enforcement.

A common but skewed point argued by those who supported Apple’s decision on the matter is that if a decryption key is produced to gain access to this specific iPhone, it surely will not be the only time that the key is used. They fear that if the key were to be developed, the American intelligence community will continuously return to the judicial system to gain more warrants to access more civilian cell phones.

Many believe that this could be the first drop of an immensely strong storm that will rain down upon America until this nation stands no more. What do I say to that? Let the rain pour.

If the FBI feels that they need to be granted access warrants every single week of every single year for the next 10 decades to continue to dutifully protect and serve this country, then how dare people prevent them from doing so. If you have the desire to live in a nation with a weakened and strained system of security, then I applaud you for your bravery, but how dare you put your family, your neighbors, your classmates and all of your fellow Americans at risk.

So to Apple and any Americans who believe they are safe without stringent security measures, I plead to you: help law enforcement before it is too late for law enforcement to help you.