The terrorist attack in San Bernardino last December rightly scared the bejeezus out of a lot of Americans. It raised questions about ISIS’ influence in America, it sparked a massive and controversial debate over whether the government should place a moratorium on the influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees, and—most pertinently to today’s news—it reignited the possibility of increased government surveillance of the population. The FBI has been stumped by the locked iPhone of perpetrator Syed Rizwan Farook, so with the support of a court order, it has ordered Apple to build a backdoor that would allow the Bureau to solve the password and access the phone’s data. The catch: Apple has refused to comply.
In an open letter to its customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained the company’s stance, citing fears that the backdoor—a software alteration that allows unlimited password attempts without the deletion of the phone’s data, rather than the ten attempts currently allowed—would be abused. “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,” he writes. “In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”
Cook goes on to chastise the FBI’s use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify its actions, calling it a dangerous and overreaching precedent to set. “If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data,” he elaborates. “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”
You can and should read the full letter here. This is a very important debate in which to engage, whether you agree with the government’s argument that a backdoor is a necessary evil for national security’s sake or you side with Apple in its protection of all users’ privacy.