“The only way we know is to write a piece of software that we view as the software equivalent of cancer.”
Apple’s Tim Cook in an interview with ABC News.
The ongoing debate of whether Apple should help the FBI in accessing the phone of one of the San Bernardino killers has sparked global debate. Whilst Apple strongly feels that the FBI should not have access to the phone at all costs, is this really a justified response from Apple?
Recent polls conducted suggested that 51% of Americans asked believed that the company should comply with the FBI. Even though many technology companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have backed Apple’s decision, most have stayed mute. Many big figures are also backing the FBI, such as Bill Gates, who said that the tech giant should comply in this particular instance. All of this makes one question, is Apple really doing the right thing by standing up to the FBI?
Apple’s position is that it is fighting for the privacy of its users and argues that by creating a backdoor, it would compromise the security of the millions of their customers across the world. Even if the software was created solely for the FBI, which could take up to one month to complete according to Tim Cook, it could never be fully erased. Tim Cook doesn’t even want to consider the possibility of keeping the software and allowing it to be used in the future at the FBI’s will.
One of the big concerns is that by creating a backdoor for this particular situation, it opens up the ability for people other than the FBI to utilise it. If someone were to get hold of this software, such as a hacker, it could compromise the security of over 500 million devices. According to Tim Cook, your phone has more information than any other source out there. Your phone has your conversations, your finances, your medical information and much more – the idea of this data being available to another party would be disastrous.
This isn’t an issue of privacy versus security as other people have said, this is about public safety. Creating this backdoor would set a precedent for other technology companies out there. As Tim Cook said, it isn’t about now, it’s about the future. If Apple complies with the FBI, not only would it lead to all of the iPhones out there being compromised, but it would set a precedent for other companies to comply with the FBI. This would inevitably lead to a world where governments can openly access our phones.
Even if there is the chance that the phone has information that could foil future terrorist plots, and there is nothing that says there is, the trade-off is simply not worth it. Having the possibility to find out about a future terrorist at the risk of our digital freedom is hard to justify.
With every device having a backdoor that hackers or repressive regimes potentially have the the ability to access it’s easy to see that us approaching a 1984-style society. If shady governments managed to obtain full access to the information on all of our devices, it could spell the end for the little digital freedom that is left in some societies. This is particularly relevant in light of America’s National Security Agency and the excessive global surveillance that they are carrying out, as leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden in 2013.
Although a backdoor could potentially reveal some information about a future terrorist attack, the risk of software to which anyone with the key, regardless of their means of obtaining it or intentions, could look into someone’s whole life is far greater.
It is of paramount importance to the future of digital freedom that Apple does not comply with the the FBI. Whilst standing up to them will not be easy, the company’s role as such a key player in the technology industry means the future of digital security is in their hands. The second that they comply with the FBI and add a backdoor to the iPhone marks the beginning of the end to the digital freedom that we have left.
If Apple back down the precedent for digital oversight will be set and ultimately, government access to any device will become common practice – we will all have the dreaded telescreens of 1984 in our very pockets.