Apple vs. FBI: Where Do You Stand?

The Controversy

Online news sources and traditional communication mediums all across the globe have picked up the controversial story of Apple’s open defiance to the FBI’s request for information from a locked iPhone that was owned by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino, CA attack.

These requests by the US law enforcement to private companies is not new.

Companies in telecommunications, hardware manufacturing and software have been complying to the US government law enforcement agency’s request for years. Companies like Google, in light of such requests and in the spirit of transparency to the public, has a dedicated FAQ to inform public of the rules of engagement for such exchange of data.

The controversial showdown between Apple and FBI has been brought to light due to an unprecedented opportunity given to Apple to speak up and argue their side of the story in an unrelated meth case in Brooklyn, NY.  The US court justice, against the desire of the US government law enforcement agency, gave Apple an opportunity to present an argument against the FBI order to assist in unlocking a smartphone held by a criminal.

Apple took this opportunity to create a wider argument by taking their story to a public forum and presenting their side of the story for refusal to concede to FBI demands of undermining the technology and security of their devices.  As Apple leveraged the opportunity in the Brooklyn, NY case to take a stand, FBI is using all legal means to compel Apple to comply.

Talk about dangerous precedents

What will this particular request by the FBI and compliance by Apple mean to us and our privacy today and in the future?

What is interesting to note here are the events in the past that have shaped some of the discussions for this case.  The act of the government collecting data on US citizens, most notably, the news of NSA surveillance of phone calls and texts for years, led to a shocking revelation of government acts that are secretive and against the very legal principles on which the government is formed – the protection of rights of individuals.

It would be foolish to believe that those practices have stopped in light of Snowden’s leaks.  The dangerous precedent of government’s limitless power and reach to access information of common folks has been in place and will continue to be in place perhaps under more secret and protected practices.

The precedent that has been setup has led to a complete breakdown and disregard of the privacy of common citizenry.

Moving on to Apple’s belief of what the this request from FBI will mean, I was not surprised to hear that Apple had referred to this as a “dangerous precedent” stating that this type of weakened security could also lead to more attacks by cybercriminals and hackers.

The past 70 cases where Apple did provide help to the government in unlocking the devices reveals Apple’s bending the rules around “principles of trust” that is now being touted as the founding basis for defying the government.

At the center of it

From where I stand, I believe for many of us, the crux of the battle is the emotional and intellectual response to a heart-rending tragic event.

In its simplest form, the request from the government for Apple to provide help to discover and investigate the terrorist in the Bernardino case generates a resounding visceral need for Apple to comply with all requests for help.

The government request is for a cause that vibrates in all of us as the right one, where all our assistance is justified and needed to bring answers to victims and their families.

Taking a stance by Apple to not provide help touches a painful emotional chord raising the question of what would one do if one of your own was perished in the heinous attack and you wanted answers.

Pause there, take a deep breath and read on to understand what is Apple asking their users and public in general.  Their appeal is to our moral belief and legal right of keeping things we believe to be secret and private to ourselves.  Apple has helped the government before, but their cautious approach this time may be prompted by the very privacy that is sought after by the families of victims to keep their memories of the loved one private, be it be stored on a iphone, a tablet and or in the cloud.

Is there a position to take?

In this historic moment where the emotional is pitted against intellectual, is there a position to take?

For some yes, Apple has found friends with many tech friends, Facebook and Google, who have openly supported Apple’s right to protect their technology and continue to build on the trust with their consumers.

For a few others, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates could have heeded to this one time request due to its unique and extraordinary nature.  Like so many other discussions that collide head on with our visceral and cerebral instincts, reconciling to one or other itself is a challenge.

So, what is your position going to be on this, can it be unambiguous and categorical or is it mired in the moment we live and experiences we have?