Tech Giants Face Off With FBI Over User Privacy
Most computer and smartphone users engage in sensible safety practices where cybersecurity is concerned; they utilize antivirus software, strong login credentials, and set up alerts to warn them of suspicious behavior in any of their accounts, and on all of their devices. But what happens when the potential hacker is the government?
That’s precisely the hot tech issue this week, as a federal judge delivered an order to force tech giant Apple to bypass its own security functions on a piece of evidence: the iPhone of Farook, a terrorist and shooter who participated in the San Bernardino mass shootings back in December which killed 14 people.
A number of tech giants, including Twitter, Facebook, and some suggest, Google, have sided together to fight the Obama administration on the issue, citing that the FBI request would set a detrimental precedent regarding the security of personal information of their users, and seem to all agree that the nature of the federal requests would broadly weaken the security across their line of products.
Facebook in particular publicly launched a statement saying that they would aggressively fight any federal move to weaken the security of their tech products, and each company has released broad statements condemning the action of the shooter and of terrorists at large, but highlighting the difficulty the court order represents to their business, and to consumer rights.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has publicly stated that his company will not comply with the court order, and the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, spoke out on Wednesday to say that “forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users’ privacy” and also suggested that complying with the order would set a troubling precedent.
The court order suggests that the FBI should be allowed easy access to smartphone user data through a dedicated backdoor system in cases of national security. Tim Cook’s response quickly gathered a great deal of national attention in and out of the industry.
Steve Wozniak, an Apple cofounder, Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, spoke on Thursday to correspondents at CNBC about the contest; while admitting he was not intimately involved, but was quick to state that the brand’s name was based largely on user trust in their security, and that allowing backdoor access to all their products would violate that trust.
Edward Snowden, famed internet activist and whistle-blower, called the case Apple has launched against the court “the most important tech case in a decade”, and went on to note the extreme irony that companies would need to be the ones to speak on behalf of consumer privacy to the government.
But many public figures have weight in on the topic against Apple; among these John McAfee, cybersecurity expert and developer of the McAfee line of security products, wrote an open letter to the Business Insider in which he offered to decrypt the phone personally for the federal government, at no cost.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, Senator Tom Cotton, and Senator Feinstein also all came down on the side of the federal government, issuing various statements or saying in interviews that Apple should comply with the court order.
Marco Rubio elaborated that there should be a unified way in which Silicon Valley and the federal government can work together on the issue, preserving user security and data while also acting to stop large-scale federal crimes.
For those who believe it to be a one-off order by the federal government, the facts indicate that’s simply untrue: the FBI has the resources to decrypt the phone. Instead, the federal court is hoping to establish a legal precedent by which major companies could be leveraged to be obligated in the assistance of law enforcement when law enforcement officials need sensitive user data and information.
And to a certain extent, Apple has complied as much as they can without creating backdoor applications for the FBI: they accessed and gave to the FBI all of the phone’s unencrypted data, including what the shooter had backed up on its cloud behind firewalls. Complying with the court order in this specific case would prompt Apple to create an all-new iOS specifically for law enforcement, which could be used to skillfully break into absolutely any Apple phone, anywhere, anytime.