On December 2, 2015, in a banquet hall 14 people lost their lives to a mass shooting attack as employees of the California Department Public Health held a holiday party. The perpetrators, a married couple were killed in a shootout with the state police after a four-hour manhunt.
Over two months later, a legal battle between the FBI and Apple Inc. has seen to it that investigations remain inconclusive as Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the tech company intends to oppose a court order requesting the company to create and reinstall a new version of iOS into an iPhone 5C belonging to one of the shooters in a bid to assist the FBI unlock the phone.
For the patronisers of Apple products and for tech enthusiasts in general, it is barely news that all the iPhone operating systems designed after iOS 8 comes with an encryption system that automatically wipes the all data stored in the device after 10 incorrect password attempts.
Tim Cook in an open letter to customers stated that while the company held the FBI in high regards, it was not willing to compromise the privacy and security of its customers by creating a backdoor to unlock the iPhone. He emphasized on the threat that a new version capable of unlocking any iPhone device poses to the privacy of its users when in the hands of an agency, whether government or otherwise.
There are valid points on either side of this keenly contested argument. Whilst the FBI deems it well within its rights to request for a way to gain access to the device, Apple is fighting against a move that could see the company risk the security and privacy of its users by creating a master key without an assurance of where it would end up.
Even with the staunch assurance from the FBI that the so called ‘master key’ would be destroyed immediately the security of the iPhone in question is breached, there are still worries over the precedence which concession to such judicial order sets, let alone the damage it would inflict of the company’s economy and public relations.
As exchanges between Apple and the FBI drag on, the argument gradually gains increased public interest, with most tech personalities, Mark Zuckerberg inclusive, siding with Tim Cook and Apple. The company’s resolve is under a trying test as most recently, families of those killed as well as those injured in the in the attack have asked for the software to be created, adding an emotional touch to the argument.
The truth remains that technological advancement is for everyone. Both the innocent and criminals alike. The FBI, in defence of their request from Apple released a transcript of a phone conversation between two dissidents under police supervision and one of the apparently says to the other “Check your iPhone operating system, if it’s a version 8 or more then it is a gift from God”.
As much as we celebrate our unhindered privacy, terrorists, kidnappers, paedophiles amongst others celebrate it just as much, or maybe even more. In agreeing to compromise on the security of our telephone devices or our online accounts, our lives are most probably more secure.
Authorities have however proven to be abusive in their use of such leeway and providing master keys such as that in question may just be a slippery slope encouraging the FBI to break into any iPhone and not just that particular iPhone 5C.
In the end, the issue widens the gap between technology and the government that public mistrust has already created. Security agencies are ready to play the part of the big bully for the sake of our general security but then there is hardly any doubt that they have to do more to gain our trust.
In less liberal countries, government access to such sensitive personal information could easily cost an activist his freedom or even his life! Privacy and security are not necessarily two entirely different concepts, thus, the request for such unprecedented access without assurance that it is in good hands and stays in good hands remains a matter of questionable conviction.
For the sake of our security, we can only hope FBI and Apple reach an agreeable balance for the sake of a healthy balance between worldwide security and privacy as whether we like it or not, this concerns us all and this tussle will remain a point of reference for the future.