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iPhone encryption controversy continues

Photo by SARAH HANASHIRO 

by EVELYN WONG

With the growing apprehension over terrorist attacks and gun violence following the San Bernardino shootings in December of 2015, the need to sacrifice privacy for national security may have adverse consequences.

Following the mass shooting and attempted bombing by married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik Dec. 2, 2015, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seized an iPhone belonging to Farook. This renewed a decades-long debate regarding “privacy versus security,” according to the New York Times article “Apple’s Privacy Fight Tests Relationship With White House.”

The FBI and DEA sought to convince Apple to bypass the iPhone’s auto-delete security function by writing a “backdoor” code, which would allow the FBI to access data regarding potential terrorist connections suspected to be stored in the phone and crack Farook’s passcode.

The FBI and DEA cited the All Writs Act of 1789, a law which allowed federal courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of the law,” in an attempt to appeal to a New York federal judge for permission to receive assistance from Apple to crack Farook’s iPhone. The federal judge rejected the FBI’s request, however, as an argument made by Apple stated that writing code to defeat its own encryption would violate the company’s First and Fifth Amendment rights and make its customers’ personal information “vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, hostile foreign agents and unwarranted government surveillance.”

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According to Bernstein v. U.S. Department of Justice, electronic coding has been established as speech and is protected by the First Amendment. Apple’s argument stated that forcing the company to cooperate in cracking the phone’s password would be a violation of the right to free speech. In addition, Apple further asserted that its being ordered to assist in an investigation, despite not being directly connected, would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which gives the right to “be free from arbitrary deprivation of [its] liberty by government,” or due process.

Though both sides are acting with intent to protect American citizens, Apple should not be ordered by the federal court to bypass its own encryption, a process that would not only cost over $100,000 but would also be a potential source of greater danger if it came into the wrong hands.

An integral component of everyday life, smartphones store a large amount of personal information, not only private conversations and photos but also in calendars, financial information, health data and even locations users have been and are going. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s “A Message to Our Customers,” creating a new version of iOS, the Apple operating system, that disables the auto-erase function would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture data. This would greatly undermine the security features meant to protect customers from hackers and cybercriminals, and destroy the encryption in the iPhone, which would ironically “weaken those protections and make [their] users less safe.”

Furthermore, the development of a “crippled” operating system would strengthen the government’s ability to monitor private conversations and tap into personal information. This precedent would allow the government to obtain “backdoor” access to any device believed by the government to help in an investigation in the future, despite the FBI’s suggestion that the tool would be only used on Farook’s phone.

Encryption of the iPhone has been engineered by its developers to place our personal safety as American citizens as the highest priority. As a result, though security may be valued more greatly than privacy in many cases, the use of a “backdoor” operating system would lead to potentially greater risks in regard to the safety of American citizens in the hands of hackers and other cybercriminals.

According to Cook, forcing Apple to create a “crippled” operating system for iPhones would “undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

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