Apple has waged war with the FBI by refusing to give the organization what Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, calls a “backdoor” to the iPhone.
In essence, the FBI wants Apple to write up a new code so that a feature — the one that wipes all of a phone’s data if the passcode is entered wrong 10 times — will be turned off. This backdoor would override all of the encryption systems that Apple executives have placed on the device. The same encryption systems put into place so personal data would be protected from hackers and criminals.
The FBI wants this new software for its investigation of the San Bernadino shootings. The bureau is hoping to access the shooters’ information stored in phones.
“Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation,” Cook said in an open letter to Apple customers. “In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
Although the FBI has an important motive to encourage Apple to help them, a tool of that scope might be better off nonexistent.
Apple was forced to create this software by a court, but they have since filed to appeal the decision. If the appeals court forces the company to make the software, it would set a scary precedent — not just with the government, but with anybody trying to acquire personal information stored on people’s phones.
A tool like that would be extremely dangerous in the hands of terrorist groups, hackers or even our own government, which could very well misuse it. It sets a precedent to what the government, and potentially others, are allowed to access.
Once the government has the program, the opportunity is there to use it for instances that suit its interests. And, if the courts grant them this victory over iPhones, who is to say they won’t try to weaken the encryption of other softwares, like PCs, tablets and other popular technologies. In fact, the FBI has cases in court to give it access to the data for 12 other iPhones that are unrelated to matters of national security.
The FBI isn’t just trying to comprehend the San Bernadino shootings by hacking into the perpetrator’s phones, it’s using the incident as a legitimate reason for Apple to give it access. But, creating a tool like that and keeping it hidden from the public will be extremely hard. The fact is there are non-FBI officials who would love to use the program for other purposes and when someone finds it, we’ll all be in trouble.
The possibility of others finding this program to use for one’s own means is especially high in the age of the Internet. But if Apple doesn’t make it, it would take a lot of time and effort for other people to try and hack into an iPhone.
Most of us would shrug away the worry with the feeling that we don’t have anything to hide. But, you do, it’s just not in your text messages or photos. If you have a banking app or anything with sensitive personal information on it on your phone, those are things you do hide — not because they’re bad but, in the hands of other people, could get you in trouble.
As a for-profit company, Apple has to think about its customers first and it would be counter productive for them to establish a way to debilitate the encryption systems that they spent thousands of hours perfecting. Plus, if their customers value safety then Apple will obviously put customers’ concerns in the forefront of their decision making.
This doesn’t mean the FBI is wrong to try to access these phones, but the precedent it would set could cause a lot of unforeseen consequences. That’s why the ruling for the case should be absolute. They should give no access, even in terms of national security because it’s hard to draw that line sometimes.
Cook ended his letter by saying, “While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”