Apple should defend people, not privacy

The company needs to help the FBI solve a terrorism case by revealing its encryption methods.

Keelia Moeller

Recent events have revealed there are more important things at stake than personal privacy when it comes to the advanced encryption of Apple devices. 
Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, Calif., and then died in a police shootout. 
However, it is unclear with whom exactly the two communicated before the attack. The couple destroyed two personal cell phones and removed a computer hard drive, suggesting they wanted to hide further evidence from law enforcement agents. 
The FBI obtained Farook’s iPhone, hoping a backup on his iCloud might supply them with information that could lead them to other guilty parties in the shooting. However, because the iPhone has a passcode the FBI cannot break, a United States magistrate has ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking the device.
Apple did not comply. In a customer letter, the company said compliance would violate the “freedom and liberty our government is meant to protect.” 
In order to protect its users’ privacy, Apple intentionally designs its devices to be highly encrypted, making it all but impossible for an outside party to access the phone’s content. And according to Apple, showing the FBI how to break the encryption on Farook’s iPhone might give the bureau a “universal key” for unlocking all Apple devices. 
Forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski said it may be possible for Apple to write a custom code particularly for Farook’s device, which would not give the FBI the means to unlock other devices. 
This, however, could set a precedent for Apple to comply with the FBI in the future.
While I understand Apple’s concerns with allowing the government access to all of its devices, I don’t believe that personal privacy outweighs the danger of failing to incriminate guilty parties, especially in high-profile cases involving terrorism. 
The public attention this case is receiving exposes Apple devices as high-encryption tools which the FBI cannot breach. This could open the door for other criminals to use iPhones or other Apple devices as a means of hiding incriminating evidence in their wrongdoings.
The use of a “universal tool” that will unlock all Apple devices is, of course, concerning. Apple devices are incredibly popular — everywhere you go, you’re bound to see someone pulling an iPhone from their pocket. That said, whatever Apple decides to do will affect the technological privacy of a large portion of the world. 
This is the exact type of high-profile situation that embodies the arguments we’ve been having about personal privacy and national security since 9/11 and the Patriot Act. 
I respect the concern about government access to Apple devices, but in times like these, it is more important to incriminate parties guilty of terrorism or other extreme violence than it is to protect these people’s rights to personal privacy.
Keelia Moeller welcomes comments at [email protected].