Big Brother Versus the Big Apple?

There is a fascinating discussion beginning to play out in the media regarding data privacy and security. It’s a battle between the FBI and Apple over a cell phone used by one of the attackers in the mass shooting at the San Bernadino County Department of Public Health on December 2, 2015.

Apple has been ordered by a federal court to create software that would bypass the security on their iPhone 5 so the FBI can extract the data stored on the phone. Investigators want to use the data to determine what occurred in the hours and days leading up to the attack – presumably to find out if there is a connection to ISIS or another larger terrorist organization that poses a threat to national security.

Apple responded by taking the discussion public, seeing this as an overreach of the government that could have far greater implications than just this case. In a letter to their customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that he wants to make sure that their customers “understand what is at stake” if they comply with the request.

The order was issued by a Federal District Court judge for the District of Central California under the All Writs Act of 1789. This is not the first time the legislation has been used to order Apple to assist with a brute force entry into an iPhone. A similar order was issued by the Northern District of California US District Court in October of 2014, however it is not clear if Apple complied with that order.

This raises so many questions from so many different angles. For those of you who appreciate the value of debate, here are a few questions to consider regarding this case:

  • Should Apple be forced to write software that, in essence, creates a back door into their phones?
  • Would it be worth risking the sense of security and privacy for a limited set of citizens in the effort to make all US citizens safer?
  • If Apple can develop such a tool, could a skilled hacker also figure out a way to do the same?
  • What if Apple complies, the FBI retrieves the data, and the end result is that this ‘terrorist attack’ was the result of a few fanatical individuals, working on their own?
  • Is Apple justified in their reaction and resistance to this order as a Big Brother-style strategy with far-reaching implications?
  • Since this is not a first-time occurrence, why is Apple resisting this particular order in such a visible way? Are they attempting to maintain a level of power and control that puts them out of reach by the government?
  • If you own an iPhone, and Apple complies with this request, does this make you feel personally less secure?

As a software provider, we make every attempt to build in an appropriate level of security into our application to protect the customer and the donors for whom they track information. Occasionally we’re asked by a customer to bypass that security to resolve a particular issue. We evaluate each request individually to weigh the risks and benefits and make decisions accordingly. Ultimately, we will make the right decision to safeguard both your data and the sense of trust that is so important in the process.

Where do you weigh in?