This week, Apple finds itself at the forefront of one of the most significant privacy and digital security debates today. Moshi’s Week in Tech spotlights Tim Cook’s principled stance against the FBI in the name of consumer rights to privacy.
Apple vs. the FBI
On Tuesday, February 16, a United States district court ordered Apple to assist the FBI in developing a method to break into an iPhone 5c linked to the San Bernardino attacks. Specifically, the court order demands Apple assist in either bypassing or disabling an auto-erase function that wipes an iPhone’s data clean after a definite number of failed password attempts to unlock the device. The court order further demands Apple develop a tool that allows the FBI to brute force the passcode, a security cracking trial and error technique, via another device and also eliminate the time delay between passcode submissions.
Rather than comply with the order, Apple will fight the order because, according to Tim Cook’s very clear and detailed letter to Apple customers, the FBI’s request has “chilling implications” and establishes a far-reaching, dangerous precedent. Although the FBI is making this request in the name of national security, the precedent it sets could one day, in Cook’s perspective, allow the government to “demand Apple build a 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.”
Furthermore, this one instance of creating a backdoor specifically for an iPhone 5c creates a technique and tool that weakens all iPhones, which will only enable and empower bad actors. Fundamentally, this one request would weaken years and years of Apple’s efforts to strengthen its security protocols. The end result would lead to the evaporation of trust Apple has worked to establish with its customers, something Cook wrote passionately on previously in 2014: “We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.”
In essence, Apple is not only fighting for its customers security, but fighting in the name of the entire tech industries’ ability to create the strongest digital security systems possible. As The Verge wrote, “you can’t build a backdoor without weakening security,” so it is important that companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter not be compelled to build government mandated vulnerabilities that can and will be exploited by criminals, terrorists, or worse.
Now, you might be wondering, is Apple alone in this fight? Thankfully, the tech giants are all rallying behind Mr. Cook.
The Tech Industry Stands with Cook
Although Cook and Apple were the first to speak up, Google, Facebook and Twitter are supporting Cook’s very eloquent and clear position.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai took to Twitter to voice his support and detail Google’s position, effectively mirroring Apple but also emphasizing that Google “builds products to keep your information safe” and will “give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders.”
Facebook issued a statement to USA Today pledging to aggressively fight government efforts to weaken the security of consumer tech products:
“We condemn terrorism and have total solidarity with victims of terror. Those who seek to praise, promote, or plan terrorist acts have no place on our services. We also appreciate the difficult and essential work of law enforcement to keep people safe. When we receive lawful requests from these authorities we comply. However, we will continue to fight aggressively against requirements for companies to weaken the security of their systems. These demands would create a chilling precedent and obstruct companies’ efforts to secure their products.”
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey detailed his opinion with complete support for Cook and thanking Apple’s CEO for the leadership with the tweet below:
— Jack (@jack) February 18, 2016
The U.S. government may think this is a whole lot of stress over just one iPhone 5c, but the impact of this fight is much broader.
It is important this security debate is being brought to consumers’ attention, so where do you stand on this fight between Apple and the FBI? Let us know in the comments section!