The case of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) forcing Apple to install a backdoor into their iPhones has been raging on for some time. While Apple is adamant that they don’t want to do so — based on this letter from Tim Cook to their customers — the FBI are pretty persistent in trying to get them to comply.
With two opposing views, people will start to take sides and the most recent high-profile tech person to choose a side is Bill Gates and while it seemed like he was with the FBI in this case, recent reports indicate a more moderate stance.
Privacy and security matters to us because there are plenty of things we want to be kept to ourselves. That much is reasonable, but when an act of terror like the San Bernardino attack, that cost the lives of 14 people, happens and the data vital to the investigation is encrypted in the terrorist’s smartphone, we have to wonder at what cost does privacy come?
The court ruling was simple: Apple was to provide the FBI with a system to overcome the iPhone’s built-in security features — specifically the one that erases all the data on the iPhone after a certain number of failed login attempts. By doing so, the FBI could then brute force their way in (inputting all the possible variations of the password with a computer) and crack the encryption.
Apple’s stand was that by doing so, it would risk every iPhone out there as they would have to install a “backdoor” into the system, a backdoor which Apple says could be abused and used to open other iPhones as well. This was a risk Cupertino was not willing to make.
The feds assured everyone that this “backdoor” was not going to be abused but many have pointed out that all it takes is one rotten apple to leak it into the world and suddenly every iPhone becomes vulnerable. Clearly something Apple wants to avoid.
Here is where Bill comes in. The founder of Microsoft said that all the FBI wants is access into ONE smartphone, which is something Apple should be able to do without undermining all their encryption. He also says that there should be safeguards in place (by Apple) when the government accesses such information.
While many reported that due to his earlier statement, it meant Bill was siding with the FBI on this matter, but he has since come out and taken a more…moderate stance. Reports indicate that he isn’t fully backing the FBI, calling instead, for a broader discussion as he believes that a balance is important.
When asked specifically on his stance, he said that the “courts are going to decide” and also that these “issues will be decided in Congress”. Am I the only one sensing a cop out here?
That said, Bill did raise some valid concerns earlier. But if you look at Tim Cook’s open letter, he claims that Apple has put so much effort into their encryption that they’ve put access into their phones out of even Apple’s own hands. That’s why even they can’t crack the terrorists’ iPhone.
Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but what is also interesting is the fact that Apple decided to make their resistance to this court order so public. It does make us wonder whether Apple is using this wave of controversy as a publicity stunt. In fact, the only way Tim could have made his open letter more patriotic is by replacing his periods with bald eagles. Either way, it’s working because this case is on everyone’s lips.
Several high profile opinion leaders in the tech industry have spoken up about this issue, among which are Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. While Mark sympathised with Apple‘s predicament, Jack openly declared his allegiance to #TeamApple.
Even eccentric millionaire John McAfee (no points for guessing what he is the founder of) has offered to decrypt the problematic iPhone himself. In fact, John says that he can do so in just three weeks because his crack team is made up of “prodigies” that he believes the FBI simply “would not hire” because they have “mohawk haircuts, ear piercings, tattooed faces and a person who has to smoke weed while working and won’t work for less than a half-million dollars a year”.
He’s so confident that not only will he do this for free, he also said that he would eat his shoe on the Neil Cavuto (an American television anchor) show if he fails. Seems like a tempting offer?
So how important is privacy? The FBI seems to be arguing that it is important up until the point it stops them from saving lives, whereas Apple is sticking to their guns in keeping their customers’ information private.
That said, it doesn’t seem like the FBI is asking for that much, after all, it’s just one smartphone right? Well, according to recent developments reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department is now asking Apple to extract data from another 12 iPhones throughout the US. Are Apple’s concerns validated now?
The space between privacy and safety is a tricky line to tread on. On one hand, without privacy, we won’t be able to rest properly with the knowledge that someone could be sifting through all our private information right now. But on the other hand, what if this potentially harmless backdoor into the encryption of our smartphones could save lives?
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.