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A Serious Consideration of the San Bernardino iPhone Controversy

On December 2, 2015 a story unfolded that, until recent history, had been reserved only for fictional tales; unhappy ones at that. On this day in San Bernardino, California 14 people lost their lives while 22 people were injured at the hands of a married couple that targeted the County’s Department of Public Health’s employee Christmas Party. The couple later died in a shootout with the police.
After the waves of shock and grief had rolled over, the San Bernardino Shooting reemerged in the media’s spotlight when the FBI announced in February of 2016 that their attempts to unlock the shooter’s iPhone 5C were unsuccessful because of the phone’s advanced security features. The National Security Agency was similarly fruitless. Following the ineffective efforts on behalf of the government, the FBI then reached out to Apple asking them to create a version of the iOS operating system that would undermine the phone’s security features and allow accessibility. Apple refused. The FBI sought and obtained a court order directing Apple to develop and apply the requested software. Apple never complied with the order, but the Department of Justice announced on March 28th that the iPhone had been accessed through the efforts of a third party.
As an everyday, average American citizen who understood the enormous tragedy of terrorism and the government’s significant interest in the tracking of terrorist activity for the protection of the citizenry I found myself asking, “Why? What is the big deal, Apple?” The “big deal” is discussed below.
To begin, the positions: the FBI argues that this is a one-time scenario where national security interests hinge on the ability of the government to access this particular iPhone. According to the FBI there could be evidence of a third-shooter, or other valuable information. However, Apple saw things differently asserting that if they were to develop this software, the software could be used as a key to unlocking iPhones in general; a key opening the door to potential governmental intrusion on personal privacy that Apple does not want to be held responsible for.
Okay, so the dots are starting to connect in my low-tech mind: if the government had this software they could look into my phone and figure out who I’m calling, or texting. However, this is just part of it. If the government were to have this accessibility they would be able to read messages, track phone calls, track our locations with the GPS, look through the phone’s camera, or record conversations through the microphone, just to name a few! (http://www.digitaltrends.com/opinion/apple-vs-fbi-op-ed/)

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” –Benjamin Franklin

For the time being, Apple has fended of this battle. However, as technology advances and terrorism likely continues (much to our dismay), it is only a matter of time before the courts must make a binding decision considering the competing interests involved: the government’s interest in terror intelligence and the individual citizen’s privacy interest. Both interests are worthy contenders. While any citizen will recognize the importance of tracking terrorism, average citizens like myself must seriously consider the implications of allowing government-compelled phone accessibility. As Apple CEO Tim Cook warned, if it is one phone it is all. Creating accessibility software, according to Cook, cannot be reserved to just one phone. And even for those who are not inherently anti-government, or untrusting it is critical to remember in this day in age the ability for malicious actors to hack, or interfere. What happens if this software, intended for accessibility of one terrorist’s phone, gets into the hands of the wrong people? On the frivolous side of the spectrum they get to see the text messages we send to our buddies, but on the side of the severe we could potentially be dealing with a whole new genre of terrorism that targets individuals in their most personal capacities.
As we grow into this technology-ran lifestyle where we increasingly share our most intimate details via some sort of technological connection we must consider our personal liberty interests at stake despite the government’s facially legitimate interest in protecting the citizenry. We do not want to unlock a door that can never be closed again.

Olivia Euler