In the last few weeks, Apple has taken their dispute with the federal government to the American public. The dispute is over an iPhone recovered in the San Bernardino shooting last December. Apple is refusing to follow a court order that calls for them to assist the FBI in accessing content on the phone.
On Dec. 2 of last year, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik entered the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, where they opened fire; 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in the attack. Several hours later, the police were involved in a shootout with the suspects, who were ultimately shot and killed.
On Dec. 6, President Barack Obama announced that the attack had been an act of terrorism. The aftermath of the terrorist attack, which was the largest attack on American soil since 9/11, has left the FBI fighting to prevent further attacks.
The order that Apple is refusing to cooperate with essentially asks that Apple would build a new version of iOS in order to bypass certain security features of the newest version of operating system. According to Apple, the technology does not currently exist—they would have to build the backdoor technology from scratch in order to assist the FBI in retrieving information from the phone.
In a statement released by Apple on Feb. 16, they stated that “the government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.” The statement proceeded to call the public to enter into the conversation about security and privacy rights.
President John Pistole, a former Deputy Director of the FBI, and former Administrator of the TSA, further explained what the FBI is asking from Apple.
The FBI is requesting that the new technology would remove the feature of iOS that clears all data on an iPhone after 10 incorrect passcode attempts, as well as removing the time restrictions in between incorrect entries. They have also asked that they would be able to enter the codes electronically, so that a computer could work through many codes quickly.
According to Pistole, Apple, along with many other communication giants, such as Google, has previously cooperated with similar orders. The difference this time, Pistole said, is that Apple is claiming that their cooperation would set a new precedence within the law.
“In this instance, Apple is trying to take a principal position of preserving privacy of their customers,” Pistole said. “Any time you have a new event take place, that can be a precedent, but it’s a question of future courts and legislators to decide that.”
Pistole does believe, however, that this case will ultimately set a new precedent.
In recent days, Apple has urged that this dispute should be worked out through Congress. Pistole said that Apple’s attempts to involve Congress are a tactic for slowing down the process.
“That may be the right answer long term, but if there’s another terrorist attack because there’s information on that phone that Apple hasn’t cooperated on, then they’re not being a good citizen,” Pistole said. “For 31 years, I’ve tried to keep bad things from happening to people, and recognizing the balance between privacy and security. There’s no perfect answer, but this seems like a discreet enough, specific enough case.”
In the long-term, Pistole believes that legislation is the right answer for the issue of security and privacy with technology. With legislation, there would be clear guidelines for what can and can’t be done, and there wouldn’t be legal battles each time.
Pistole is concerned for the implications if Apple doesn’t ultimately comply with the order to create the new code.
“There’s a clear potential security implication, that if they don’t cooperate, then national security, which means people’s lives, could be adversely impacted,” Pistole said. “Other terrorists can see this as saying ‘Hey, here’s a way to do it, and Apple’s not going to cooperate and the government’s not going to force them to.’ That’s a terrible precedent.”