Privacy or security? A look at Apple's battle with the FBI
According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of Americans owned a smartphone in 2015, meaning smartphone use increased by 33 percent in the United States between 2011 and 2015. This rise in mobile technology is not limited to the United States, either. The Economistestimates that about half of the world's population now owns a smartphone, and that figure is expected to rise to 80 percent by 2020.
This increase in mobile dependence leads to difficult questions regarding the use of technology in the modern world. Nomophobia, the fear of being without one's mobile technology, is rampant. Yet the issues surrounding increased technological dependence do not only plague individuals, but also the relationship between individuals and their government.
Because so much information is available online and through mobile technology, citizens must consider how much information they want the government to be able to access. This issue becomes especially complicated when citizens consider limiting the information available to the government may also limit the government's ability to protect them from both domestic and international threats.
The sharp contention between individual privacy and collective security came to a head last week when the FBI ordered Apple to create a code that would unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the terrorist who killed 14 individuals in San Bernardino last December. The FBI has argued that such access would provide the government with information regarding Farook's communications with the victims as well as insight into Farook's plans. At best, this information could help the FBI prevent another attack.
However, as Apple CEO Tim Cook explained in a letter to Apple customers, the FBI's order raises red flags for two reasons. First, the order sets a dangerous precedent for government access to information. Cook worries that the FBI could use the legal precedent from this case to monitor customer data without their knowledge in the future. In the last week the Justice Department has asked that Apple unlock nine other iPhones as part of ongoing investigations.
Furthermore, Cook is concerned that the creation of such technology would itself be a threat to private and national security. If the technology fell into the wrong hands, he argues, it could be used to 'unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession.' Thus it is possible that in the effort to protect citizens, the government will actually further compromise their security.
The issues at play in this particular case are not as straightforward as either the FBI or Apple would have us believe. On the one hand, if it is possible to use modern technology to make the U. S. safer, we should try to make the most of that opportunity. On the other, the pressure to use technology to eliminate threats will only become stronger as technology advances. Citizens must think critically about where they will draw the line in regards to government access to information.
As Bill Gates insisted in response to this particular controversy: 'the courts are going to decide this ' in the meantime, that gives us this opportunity to get [in] the discussion.'
As we watch this case unfold, let us then discuss how best to limit or empower our lawmakers in the future.