The fight that is taking place at the moment between the giant information technology company Apple and the FBI is symptomatic of the times in which we live. Nowadays, technology permeates all classes of society, and not only in the U.S., but on a global scale.
The digital revolution is a phenomenon that is here to stay and to transform the world and relationships among the people that inhabit it. Nothing can stop it, no matter how much totalitarian governments try.
However, modern progress poses new dilemmas every day for which there is no sufficiently current legislation. The present conflict between Apple and the FBI is a vivid example of the complicated problem of the people’s right to privacy versus the demands of government and intelligence services in pursuit of an important objective: security of its own citizens, and global security, if the scourge is terrorism, such as in this particular case. The FBI is demanding that Apple allow the FBI access to the iPhone that was used by terrorist Syed Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California last December, before both were shot by the police.
At first glance, who can oppose an opportunity to make progress in an investigation that offers clues about the actions of very dangerous and obsessed people capable of committing an atrocity accompanied by a cry of Allah, such as an Uzbekistani woman in Russia recently did, after cutting off the head of a little girl for whom she was supposedly the babysitter.
A recent U.S. poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that a majority of 51 percent was in favor of complying with the FBI’s request, 38 percent were opposed, and 11 percent offered no opinion.
After a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI retrieve information from the cell phone on Feb. 16, Apple President Tim Cook expressed his disagreement. He considered it to be an act of subjugation by the American government, and he declared his intention to resist. While the decision of a federal judge in New York on a case of drug trafficking could give Apple some relief, because the judge denied a request similar to Apple’s put before him in the drug case, the company is willing to go to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The truth is that the line that separates privacy from the fight against terror is very thin, and this iPhone matter has reopened the discussion about civil liberties and the protection of personal data, the cornerstone of this conflict.
On one hand, there is concern that if Apple were to comply with the demand forcing them to create a mechanism (a back door) that allows the lock to be removed and to decipher the calls in the San Bernardino case, Apple would create a legal precedent that would be difficult to reverse. Apple has questioned the reason the FBI made this precise situation public. It is clearly a situation that could create greater momentum in favor of the FBI’s request. And the minute that Apple complies with the judicial order, other claims would follow immediately since it is known that there is a desire to “unlock” about 12 more cell phones belonging to suspicious people.
In theory, governments represent the interests of the people, but not all governments are so respectful of individual rights. Apple spent months in China negotiating with heads of state to sell the iPhone, assuring the population that their data would not be accessible by the government. If Apple were to accept violating the privacy of its customers at home, it would be harder to say no to the demands of Chinese authorities. And one of Apple’s strengths comes precisely from its emphasis on the invulnerability of its systems — something that interests everyone, because of the perennial fear of hackers. A crucial and differentiating point is in play for the company. At the same time, this can be seen as a new struggle between powerful businesses — entities that do not always have the benefit of society and government at heart. Facebook, Twitter and Google have supported Apple’s position (though not Bill Gates), with the understanding that the judge’s order oversteps the government’s legal authority and violates the Constitutional right to freedom of speech. Cook insists on the importance of data protection and that the unlocking [of phones] could put people at a great risk; although, according to The New York Times, Apple has cooperated in the past when it was able.
The debate is under way.