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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Apple should unlock San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone

The debate over individual privacy versus collective safety is ongoing. It began with 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ idea that all individuals cede some of their rights to a government in return for protection. This idea continues to be considered today with Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone for the FBI.

The phone belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, and the phone is set to erase all data after 10 failed password attempts. The FBI asked Apple to help it get around the password in order to learn if the shooters were connected to a larger terrorist network, but Apple refused on the basis of privacy rights.

Apple claims that creating a back door would open up the potential of the government spying—not just in the U.S.—and would give hackers a possible way in.

So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has ordered Apple to comply, but Apple plans to fight the order. The company will file its first legal argument Friday and the hearing will happen sometime next month.

Many people support Apple’s decision, as it seems like a stand against the “Big Brother” government, but there are more important things at stake here than Apple’s dedication to its customers.

Up until about a year and a half ago, Apple did have a back door into all of its phones. There was a master code that the company could—and did—use to help law enforcement with many cases. That code was never stolen by hackers and Apple didn’t give it away to the government. It was used only to get into singular phones, not for wide-spread data-mining operations.

But a new operating system, iOS 8, changed that in September 2014. Apple decided that even it shouldn’t be able to access its customer’s data with such ease. At first glance, that seemed admirable, but in reality, it only puts more people at risk.

That risk could be another terrorist attack or it could be a murderer remaining free. The government isn’t trying to use fear just to push for more invasive laws, it’s trying to protect the people it serves and to do that, it needs information.

In addition, the phone is technically owned by the County of San Bernardino—the county employed Farook and provided him with the device—which has given its permission to have the iPhone unlocked. Even barring that fact, Farook was killed by police, and under U.S. law, the deceased do not have privacy rights.

Apple should comply with the Justice Department’s court order and help the FBI unlock the iPhone. The company is not being forced to turn that code over to the FBI, so it wouldn’t be giving iPhone-cracking technology to the government.

Historically, the risk of a hacker finding and using the code is slim to none. And though Apple claims to fear that other countries will try to use the code to spy on their people, that apparently wasn’t an issue during the past decade when Apple did have the ability to open any iPhone.

We’ve been slowly giving up our privacy rights with every click of a mouse. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—all Internet sites—broadcast our information and chip away at our privacy. You could argue that such invasions are voluntary and thus, acceptable. But why are we okay with Amazon selling our information to promote targeted ads, but not the government getting information on a case-by-case basis that could keep us safe from another terrorist attack?

As a technology-driven society, we need to stop holding onto an outdated definition of privacy that will only harm us in the long run. Apple should unlock the iPhone and help the FBI keep America safe. 

Follow Marissa Heffernan on Twitter.

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