Apple and FBI Battle in Court Over Product Security

By Joshua Salita,
Tech & Innovation Writer

With the support of over thirty tech big names like Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft; Apple Inc. is fighting the FBI requested court order that would force them to create an electronic backdoor to all Apple devices on the grounds of protecting customer privacy. Following the terroristic attacks perpetrated by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a counter-terrorism investigation. However, that investigation met a sizeable obstacle – the FBI could not decrypt Farook’s Apple iPhone.

In order to overcome this roadblock, the FBI asked Apple to create a new version of iOS that they could run on the recovered cell phone to avoid certain security features. Apple refused, citing its desire, and promise to protect the privacy of its customers. According to the Washington post, Apple said that they, “would never do anything to undermine the security and privacy of our customers.” In response, the FBI obtained a court order from a federal judge mandating Apple to comply with the FBI’s requests. However, this order was not a subpoena, but rather was issued under the All Writs Act of 1789.

Naturally, as the New York Times explains, “Apple revealed its intent to oppose the court order, arguing the serious security risks that creating an electronic “backdoor” would create.” They claim that creating this backdoor will create a dangerous precedent in terms of customer privacy.

This debate raises the question; is customer privacy more important than national security?

For instance, no one knows if the FBI gaining access to Farook’s phone will give them any substantial new information. While we can speculate about the hidden treasure trove of information that could potentially be hidden in the iPhone in question, there is no guarantee.

If Apple were to decide to create this version of iOS that could allow the FBI access to Farook’s iPhone, and they weren’t able to find anything, that version of iOS would still exist. In other words, if Apple complies they will be creating a program that, essentially, will render all security features on all Apple mobile devices such as tablets and phones completely and utterly useless.

While a promise can be made that this version of iOS will only be installed on this one particular device, it will be extremely difficult to maintain that promise. iOS is a complicated piece of software (obviously) so it would take a team of software programmers to reverse engineer that backdoor access. As a result, if Apple complies with the FBI, there will be a whole team of programmers that now have in depth knowledge of how to gain access to anyone’s Apple device.

The biggest challenge is that once this backdoor is created, it cannot be uncreated, and that is very dangerous territory for Apple to enter considering its famous promise of security to its customers. Frankly, if Apple doesn’t fight the court order, it is very likely that its sales will plummet.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 22nd print edition.

Contact Joshua at
joshua.salita@student.shu.edu

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