Recently, Syracuse’s Post-Standard published this article railing against Apple for their opposition to an order from the US government to build a “backdoor” into the iPhone. The article lists 5 reasons why Apple’s concerns are misplaced “in this case.”
The Post-Standard is wrong. Apple is doing right by the American people, their customers, and their own company. Technological expertise is not this author’s forte, but this article from Slate does a great job of diving into the associated technical weeds. This article will instead focus on the economics and civil rights that comprise this issue.
The Post-Standard’s article ignores entirely the fact that Apple has already been complying with all of the government’s requests which they are able. It also ignores very real constitutional issues. For years, Congress has been pressured to revise the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to deal with the increased use of encryption in internet-based devices. Thus far Congress has refused to do so. It would be wrong for the FBI to use the courts to go around Congress. Congress is the constitutional body charged with writing law, the courts are charged with interpreting law. This is the way the founders designed the federal government, and this is the way it should remain.
Further, with the rise of cyber-security issues such as those listed here, consumers are demanding greater protection from those who would want to steal valuable information. Apple’s latest operating system (iOS 8) has taken a significant step forward in meeting this demand. To create a “backdoor” into this system, Apple would effectively be creating security vulnerabilities that do not currently exist. Their customers would again demand that these vulnerabilities be remedied, and Apple would be compelled to oblige or risk losing customers. A main attraction of Apple products is continual increase in quality along with continual decrease in cost. If the government were to force Apple to create a backdoor, the need to remedy the subsequent vulnerabilities would undoubtedly add cost to their production process. This cost would necessarily be passed along to the customer. Apple doesn’t want this, and their customers certainly don’t want this.
Another problem that the Post-Standard overlooks is the setting of a very bad precedent. If Apple were to be compelled to unlock this particular phone, where do the requests end? Recently, the Manhattan DA stated that his office had collected (74) iPhones over a 6-month period that it had been unable to unlock. Extrapolate those numbers across the entire US, and Apple would have to open a whole new division just to keep up with the prosecutorial demands. Again, this would vastly increase Apple’s internal costs which would have to be passed along to their customers.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Mr. Franklin certainly was a wise man. Fear should not compel people to give up Liberty so quickly, for as has been seen throughout history, once Liberties are given up, they are immensely difficult to get back. Complete security is an illusion. We will never be 100% safe. If people desire complete security, they should allow the government to lock them in a concrete and steel-barred cell where no one could ever get to them. Of course, no one wants this because they would be giving up precious freedom.
The best way to reduce the threat of terrorism is not through giving government all-seeing, all-knowing powers. It is for the US government and the US military to cease its constant militaristic interventions overseas. These interventions create more terrorists than they kill and inspire blowback like we saw at San Bernardino. While that attack was tragic and sorrowful, the only way to truly honor the victims would be to attempt to understand what led to it in the first place. It would be wrong to double down on hate and fear-inspired militarism that results in scores of completely innocent people being killed at the hands of the US government. It would be right to imagine the shoe on the other foot, and to live by the Golden Rule.