The news of the day in the digital world has largely focused on the circumstances surrounding the FBI requesting, and a judge complying, that Apple assist in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has publicly responded that Apple will not participate in this process citing the dangerous precedent that would be set were they to comply in a personal letter to customers. The likelihood of this moving to a higher court to find a resolution is extremely high. As you can imagine, this can be considered both a very simple and an extraordinarily complex issue.
From the thirty-thousand foot view, this is a cut-and-dry issue about privacy. Should a private corporation that provides devices that have become integral parts of our lives and contain endless amounts of private information be required to aid law enforcement agencies in accessing that information if it happens to be unavailable to them due to encryption? This can easily be seen as a yes or no question because it’s about whether or not Apple is willing to hack, or provide a government agency the ability to hack, into a purchased and personally owned device.
One comparison drawn in a report online said it was like compelling a safe manufacturer to open a privately owned safe for the government to see what’s inside because they don’t know the combination or possess the ability to crack it. Given the kind of information that most people keep on their phones, this is an extremely adept comparison.
So, which would you pick? Yes, Apple should aid the FBI to hack into the phone invading the privacy of the owner, or no, Apple’s decision that it is not their policy to provide back doors or encryption keys for law enforcement to search the privately owned devices that they sell?
Complexity at Its Finest
Regardless of whether or not you said yes or no to the simply stated question and issue above, that is merely just the beginning. The truth is that this issue isn’t about unlocking or decrypting access to a single phone. Instead, the entire goal of this request from the FBI to the courts is to attempt to establish a precedent for this kind of proceeding allowing any law enforcement agency to access any device for whatever reason they deem fit.
If the FBI and the courts are able to establish that this is how something should be handled, then that is the way the other hearings and cases will manage it moving forward, providing law enforcement access to private and encrypted information.