Lessons from Apple & San Bernardino
The news currently is inundated with information about the San Bernardino shooting in December of 2015. While this tragic event occurred months ago, meaning it would normally be out of the newsroom at this point, this case has resurfaced because of cybersecurity. While the FBI continues their investigation into this case, they are asking Apple for assistance in opening the shooter’s phone. Apple has refused, providing a letter to the public to explain their reasoning. Heart Technologies is not taking a stance on this issue, but instead, we want to open your minds to see the bigger issues being put before us through this event.
First is the issue of encryption. Encryption is preached time and time again by every technology company, Heart included. In this case, you can see the power of encryption: The shooter has passed, months have gone by, and the FBI–regarded as some of the most intelligent minds in America–still cannot unlock this passcode on their own. Encryption’s impressive abilities really do wonders in protecting information, and while it is unfortunate that this case is the example for it, it does show that the extra second it takes to enter a passcode can truly protect your information.
Next, we need to examine the issue of personal security and the law. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a U.S. Supreme Court justice in the early 20th century, once said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” In this case, Apple has the right to protect this customer’s privacy, but the fist is beginning to swing in the nose of the justice system.
On the one hand, it is honorable that Apple is standing by its customers’ privacy. In their public letter, they say that they have been compliant with the authorities, but in creating a way to break in to iPhones, this could be extremely dangerous for the future. The power to create something that penetrates through security barriers could be hazardous when put into the wrong hands, so by refusing to create such technology, they are maintaining the safety of all.
On the other hand, Apple is keeping potentially valuable information from the proper authorities. This phone was protected for a reason; the issue is that we don’t know why. There are millions of people who put passcodes on their phones for completely rational reasons. Perhaps it’s a teenager who doesn’t want her nosey little sister reading her texts. Maybe it’s a loyal husband who doesn’t want his wife seeing that he just bought her birthday present on his Groupon app. Then there is this case, where the phone being protected by passcode may* contain important information about ISIS. Is disrupting the privacy of a terrorist worth gaining knowledge of what exactly is on that phone?
Likewise, the justice system is beginning to swing in the nose of personal privacy. It is honorable of our justice system to fight for our safety. Since it is unknown what information is stored on this device, being able to access what is on this iPhone could give us insider information on ISIS. There is so much that we can learn from unlocking this phone. We can’t do that unless we have the ability to do so, and Apple is refusing us the ability to do so.
There’s two sides to this story, though. The justice system, while having the best of intentions, may not be fully thinking through what they are asking Apple to do. Our system is free to gain access to this and that through subpoenas and like legalities all day, but by asking Apple to create the capability to hack into locked phones is putting all iPhone users and Apple account users’ information in danger: your images, your texts, your apps, your credit card information, and anything else saved through Apple and iCloud. Do you want that capability out there, with the potential to hack into the lives of millions of people’s information, worth what might be on one iPhone?
Regardless of what you believe when it comes to this issue, there is one lesson to take away from this: It takes one. It takes one software glitch to hack into the information of millions of people. It takes one person getting their hands on this capability to leak all of this private information. It takes one passcode to unlock the inner workings of a terrorist group. It takes one organization to instill fear in millions of people. It takes one gun to end the lives of fourteen people. It takes one moment to change lives of their family members forever. All of this, and it still comes down to one question of what’s more important: your information privacy or your life safety?
* No one knows what exactly is on the phone, but considering the shooter’s affiliation with ISIS as reported by CNN, it is a likely possibility that information about this terrorist group is accessible on this device.