Apple vs. Terrorists and FBI

Apple versus Terrorists

iPhone Banner on Building Wall
Huge iPhone Banner. Raymond Boyd

Disclosure:  Peter Leeds owns or trades shares of AAPL.

Apple currently finds itself at the center of a storm of controversy.  Specifically, they are battling with the FBI, and the court of public opinion, over unlocking the phone of a terrorist.

One of the people involved with the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, who is now dead, had an iPhone.  Homeland Security and the FBI want access to the device to look for any additional information which could relate to more plans, or potentially lead to other terrorists.

 The Department of Justice is also in on the act, adding more weight and urgency to the requests from law enforcement agencies.

Gaining access to the phone could thwart future events and therefore save lives.  The argument seems logical at first... so why isn't Apple cooperating?

In fact, Apple hasn't been very helpful through a long list of other requests from the FBI.  Over the last year, there have been thousands of requests from regulatory and law enforcement bodies asking Apple for assistance in gaining access to the digital information of specific people.  

The company has complied with over 3,000 of these requests, mainly when law enforcement had the necessary court orders, but they did so very begrudgingly.  Apple's customers need to trust that their privacy will be upheld, in every possible way, and standing up against the FBI, DOJ, and Homeland Security requests is one way that can be accomplished.

The debate between privacy and security is at the forefront right now, and has been getting increasingly heated over the course of the last few years.  

On one hand if someone is involved in a crime, law enforcement bodies want access to what could potentially be material evidence.  On the other hand, if you are involved in any illegal activity, or even if you just value your privacy, then you don't want to feel that your personal communications can be unlocked and viewed.

You may not be involved with criminal behaviour, but perhaps you are having an affair, planning a surprise party, or even shopping for a new job on the downlow.  Not that any of these considerations would be a matter of the national security, but who knows?  Those naked pictures you took could be damning and relevant if you run for political office 20 years from now.

It is a slippery slope, considering that most people fear that the first violation of privacy might result in a domino effect of many others.  Where should the line be drawn?  High school drug dealers?  Terrorists?  Ponzi scheme artists?  

Also, if you purchase a product from Apple, or any other technology company, shouldn't you be able to rely on it being private and protected from prying eyes?  

Many would argue that any program to crack into an iPhone could be used on all of them, not just the one for which it was originally created.  The potential for a developer to release it to the masses, or for it to fall into the hands of hackers, deserves some consideration.

At the same time, there are many who believe the programming in question already exists, but that it has been developed by, and is in the hands of China.  While unlikely to release such a program, over the last few years the Asian nation has been demonstrating and enhancing their digital hacking skills.

Certainly we all have more common ground than points of contention.  We all want security, and we all want privacy.  Of course, in this situation, we need to choose between them.

While the two sides of the issue are cut and dry, the solution to the conundrum is less clear.  Should security outweigh privacy?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes and no.