March 14, 2016

Apple vs The FBI What’s the Big Deal?

This post was written by: Patrick Macavoy

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Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook are names you may have heard.

Two individuals who swore allegiance to so called Islamic State and days later conducted a horrific massacre at San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, taking 14 lives and injuring an additional 22.

Following this attack the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) ascertained that the attack was premeditated, with speculation that a wider network of accomplices were also associated with this heinous act.

As the investigation continued an unlikely household name was brought into the foray, Apple Inc. The FBI wanted to gain complete access to the offender’s Iphone.  This would require Apple to completely unlock the phone. They refused, to an extent.

Apple’s decision has opened a maelstrom of controversy, in which everyone who owns a smartphone is seriously involved; that’s over a third of the world’s population. And here we begin an extremely important debate over privacy and national security.

Apple and many other tech giants vehemently disagree with any wide-ranging breaches of privacy, and thus have refused to serve this information up to the FBI on a silver platter; even if this information was to assist the FBI in discovering further funding channels and ties to ISIS

It seems a little strange for Apple to take such a stance doesn’t it?

Well it’s not quite as black and white as it seems. Apple in fact has offered a variety of alternatives for the FBI to get the data they require for their investigation.

So what do the FBI actually want?

They want Apple to construct a completely new OS (Operating System) that gives the FBI unprecedented access to any Iphone they desire; allowing them to bypass any known data encryption and subsequently view all online activity months before an attack. Meaning they would no longer need Apple’s assistance in gathering important data, they could just go and pluck whatever they wanted from whoever’s Iphone they wanted; a little Orwellian isn’t it?

This forced the FBI’s hand and they brought in the use of an Act signed by George Washington in 1789, to overrule a substantial decision that could only have emerged in the last decade. The ‘All Writs Act’ of 1789 is a part of the U.S. federal penal code that requires all U.S. courts to issue written commands at the behest of state and federal law enforcement and investigation agencies.

What does that exactly mean?

It means that if a Judge was to agree to this, that Judge could issue an official order forcing a company to comply and assist the law, or the federal state for this matter, or face heavy legal repercussions. The Judge presiding over this case ultimately agreed and did just this.

Yet the matter isn’t quite closed yet.

Apple is fighting back against the decision and appealing against the Judge’s verdict. Apple is doing this in support of privacy and has sparked a legal battle against the violation of these rights. Apple’s view on the whole subject is if they are coerced into creating this operating system then it will create a very frightening precedent, one that would allow the government to bully identical actions out of virtually any other company which holds a vast amount of personal data; personal data you thought was protected.

Close friend of the deceased Steve Jobs and current CEO of Apple Tim Cook, published an open letter on the Apple website, detailing Apple’s thoughts over their controversial decision.

“The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Apple has hit a very paranoid nerve that exists for many people, a staggering 81% of the U.S. population say they can’t trust their government, this scepticisms has undoubtedly increased following the signing of the Patriot Act in 2001 which allows the US government to enact mass domestic surveillance. This kind of mistrust is not exclusive to the United States.

For many of us, these devices are now almost like an extension of a limb; we store so much of our personal information inside it that it is clear to see how the FBI’s insistence in pushing forward with this unnecessary edict is worrying big brother-esque reality.

What’s more, with countless successful hacking attacks on the FBI, it puts into question whether the FBI are actually technically equipped to hold onto such a pivotal piece of Software.  Whether it be a malicious individual, or rogue nations, it’s a worrying piece of kit for such an insecure institution to have access too.