Apple vs. FBI controversy: Personal privacy outweighs national security

Tyra Christopherson and Sara Flash

On December 2, 2015, two shooters carried out a mass shooting that left 14 people dead and 22 seriously injured. This San Bernardino terrorist attack was the worst since the 2012 Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The FBI is in possession of the iPhone of one of the shooters and wants to unlock the phone to gain insight into the mass shooting and determine whether the terrorist attack was planned directly with ISIS.

The conflict

The attacker’s iPhone is protected with a passcode, and after ten incorrect passcodes have been entered, all the data on the phone will be wiped clean. Wanting to prevent this, on February 11, a federal court issued an order for Apple to help the FBI unlock the attacker’s iPhone.
The order asks Apple to develop software that will bypass this security feature. This would enable the FBI to pursue a “brute force” attack, trying an unlimited number of passcodes in order to gain access to the phone.
Apple has refused to comply with the court order, saying “it would undermine freedoms and liberty.”
Although the FBI maintains that the security-circumventing software would only be for a single device in a single case, Apple argues that the software—in the wrong hands—would compromise the security of every iPhone.
According to Apple, the software in question would have the capacity to override the passcode security feature of any and every iPhone, potentially threatening iPhone users everywhere.
Apple’s firm stance against the government has sparked a nation-wide debate about personal privacy and national security.

Where we stand

Issues involving national security and privacy are undeniably difficult. However, we ultimately support Apple’s decision to oppose the federal court order.
The court order asks too much of Apple. Apple’s customers expect a certain level of security, and the software intended to bypass the automatic data erase security system would detract from the security customers should be ensured.
If this truly could be about just one phone in just one case, it would be different. A national security issue is much more important than one individual’s privacy, especially when that individual has proved himself a national threat.
However, the software that Apple has been told to create would not just be limited to this one iPhone in this one situation. By design, it could be applied to any iPhone, anytime, anywhere. Clearly, in the wrong hands, this software could be disastrous.
People deserve to keep some things to themselves, and a phone has become a person’s depository for all sorts of personal information. As such, the existence of software that could undermine a phone’s security system is a severe violation of people’s privacy.

A lasting impact

Technology is developing at a rapid rate. The first iPhone was released in 2007, and since then iPhones seem to have taken over the world.
As a consequence, we are moving into new, grey areas when dealing with technology. The decisions being made around technology right now will set a precedent for the future.
If Apple complies with the government’s request, it will set a standard for other companies to act similarly if information is requested of them in the future. We’re at a crucial crossroads right now, and whatever direction we take will set the tone for decades of interactions between government and technology companies.
Furthermore, if Apple concedes, the repercussions are not limited to just the United States. Other countries, seeing that the U.S. government received information, could follow suit and request for various pieces of information from technology corporations as well. This isn’t just a national issue; it will affect people worldwide.
National security is certainly important, yet we cannot sacrifice personal privacy in order to achieve assurances of safety. This particular battle between the FBI and Apple—between national security and personal privacy—will have an important impact, setting an enduring example for countries around the world. If we sacrifice our personal privacy here, with this case, we may never get it back, and that’s something we can’t afford to risk.