Apple believes it’s doing the right thing by refusing the FBI’s request to bypass the self-destruct security feature on 2014 iPhones, says Timothy Singhel, an attorney with many years of experience in compliance issues. The government argues otherwise. Both parties have gained support and fielded outrage from concerned citizens. Some posit that this decision threatens American security; others say it doesn’t. Here, Timothy Singhel touches on both sides of this hotly debated topic.
The Issue in San Bernardino
In 2014, two militant Islamic radicals murdered 14 people in cold blood at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. The couple, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were killed in a shootout with police, says Timothy Singhel. The FBI takes the position that the shooters’ iPhones may contain information which would help the US government identify other terrorists and have requested that Apple disable the self-destruct security feature on those devices. This would allow investigators the chance to gain access to this information, according to Timothy Singhel.
Apple has taken the position that the FBI is essentially requesting a backdoor into all users’ personal and private data. According to Timothy Singhel, the company believes that once software is developed to grant this request, it cannot be contained and may threaten all Apple customers’ privacy. Apple believes there is no way to limit the use of this software to a single case. Once the precedent has been set, there is no turning back.
The Ethical Issues
According to Timothy Singhel, there are ethical issues on both sides of the coin. Apple has made a commitment to its customers to protect their personal communications. Today, with a growing and ever more electronically connected population already wary of the watchful eyes of the government, Apple is trying to be diligent in keeping that promise. If Apple makes the software available to the government, and it is subsequently leaked to hackers, the company stands to lose millions of customers. However, Apple’s failure to comply leaves open the possibility that the company is inadvertently protecting untold numbers of terrorists, both foreign and domestic.
Recent New York Ruling
On February 29, 2016, federal Magistrate Judge James Orenstein rejected law enforcement’s request to force Apple to unlock the iPhone of a man indicted in Brooklyn on drug charges. While this ruling is distinct from the San Bernardino case, there are interesting parallels that Apple will no doubt exploit in its bid to refuse the FBI’s request to bypass its own security. Judge Orenstein’s decision was based on the recent congressional rejection of a bill that would compel companies like Apple to release protected phone data to police. The magistrate judge agreed with Apple that the forced unlocking of the phone placed an unfair burden on the company and is an overstretch of the scope of the All Writs Act – arguments Apple has cited in opposition of the California case and cited again in its congressional testimony.
The big question, asserts Timothy Singhel, is this: Do the acts of a few warrant risking the privacy of many, and does the privacy of many outweigh the right of safety for all? Congress seems to have leaned in favor of privacy where non-violent crimes are concerned. It will be interesting to see if the terrorist aspect in the ongoing case will sway the forthcoming decision in California.