At the beginning of February, the US government demanded — through the FBI — that Apple build a software which would enable them to access the phone of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters from last December.
According to the FBI, the software Apple is asked to write would not affect the privacy of other iPhone users, while from Cupertino they reply that it would.
On 16 February, Tim Cook (Apple CEO) issued a customer letter explaining the company’s decision not to comply with the FBI’s request. He maintained that this action could create a dangerous precedent that would threaten people’s security – other Apple users. He was quickly backed by other tech firms, eager to keep their reputation over customer safety untouched, while the White House and presidential candidate Donald Trump clearly supported the FBI. Others point out that if were Apple to win the case it could create a dangerous precedent as well, in a sense that a big corporation’s challenge of the law enforcement could be accepted.
The extent of the power of both the government and big corporations are issues deeply felt in the USA, and with regards to the latter in Europe as well. Moreover, ethical issues are involved in this debate, too. What is more important: our privacy or our safety? Answering this question is not easy.
Everyone agrees that terrorism must be fought relentlessly, but should there be a limit to what governments are allowed to do in order to do so? And it is true that privacy is sacred, and no one should have access to the data stored in our phones? Could a single phone be hacked for the common good?
Governments already know much more than what we would like about our lives thanks to technology and our lazy attitude toward our online activities and privacy settings. Some of us feel safe knowing that everything is watched from above, maybe thinking that they’ll be defended instantly in case of danger. Others hate this thought, and rely on encryption to protect their personal information.
Asking people around campus, I mainly heard that they are more concerned about their safety rather than their privacy. However, they reckon that when it comes to their phones, where they keep their financial and health information, safety and privacy becomes an individual issue.
It is not a mere cliché saying that our world has become very similar to Orwell’s 1984, but instead of Big Brother watching us we are observing ourselves. That is why encryption is, every day, more relevant for technology firms that clash with governments, who would like the option to access digital communications in the name of safety. However, what if dictatorships were able to read citizens’ private conversations? Where would our primary liberties of free speech end?
The case of Apple v. FBI is set to be around for a long time as some believe it will arrive to the Supreme Court. However, the entire argument that the trial is based upon should go through a sane and constructive public debate as its outcome will affect everyone’s life.
There is a fine line between what the governments should be able to know to guarantee our safety and what they shouldn’t know to guarantee our privacy. This line, however, doesn’t have to be a straight one, and it can move according to the needs of the law enforcement.
However, this is not the case. Since the creation of the code could affect other people’s privacy, the FBI should not expect Apple to comply with their request, and the Californian company should stand strong in defending our rights.