Corporate Power Versus National Security

 Periodically I have found sympathy with those who believe the phrase “national security” to be overused and abused particularly when I am transiting an airport or dealing with a financial institution. However, I ask you to follow a case in California between the FBI and Apple Computer. Your informed voice may be critical if a congressionally legislated answer to the problem is required.

In the past, Apple has cooperated substantially with local, state, or federal law enforcement, armed with court authorized search warrants, in unlocking iPhones. In October 2015, after introducing its iOS 8 operating system, Apple said they will no longer honor these court orders. In the California case at hand, Apple refuses to assist the FBI holding a court order for Apple to create software to unlock an iPhone 5 c without data being deleted. This iPhone was used by a suspected terrorist who participated in killing 12 people in San Bernardino, California and wounding many more before dying in a shootout with police. No one knows what is on this iPhone. There may be nothing relevant or data leading to others involved. Was it a terrorist attack?

The execution of this order is a court monitored process in its entirety. The FBI has offered Apple procedural alternatives to allay expressed concerns over product or software integrity. Why now this change of practice by Apple? Are they seeking a negotiating advantage by blinding law enforcement in their effort to prevent or solve crimes?

Software genius Bill Gates recently appeared on the Charlie Rose show. When asked by Rose if Apple had the ability to do what the FBI was asking, Gates stated that he had no doubt Apple already had the technology that could assist the FBI and the iPhone could probably be unlocked in a very short period of time. So if it is not a question of Apple’s ability to perform, and there is no suggestion from Apple that the request is beyond their technical capabilities, why then has Apple abruptly changed its position?

Some say that Apple is being challenged by loss of mobile phone market shares to other manufacturers and encryption was something they could offer a purchaser to distinguish their product. Loyalty to customers, protection of data, damage to brand, not being an agent of the US government, theft of valuable software, these are words used publicly in opposition to the government’s request. Criminal and terrorist groups already know that law enforcement is now technically blind to their communications using iOS 8 software. One criminal in prison was taped telling colleagues to make sure everyone got a phone with the iOS 8 operating system.

How do you think Apple’s position will impact the government’s ability to predict or prevent terrorist attacks? How long will this last?