Earlier this year, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI) asked a federal court in the United States for an order requiring Apple Inc. to “assist” the FBI in hacking the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernadino shooters.
In essence, the FBI was asking Apple to build what is often called a “backdoor” so that law enforcement agencies can bypass the standard security features on an electronic device and directly access its contents.
On February 16, 2016, the court granted the Order. You can read the Judge’s Order here.
Right after the Order was issued, Apple posted a “customer letter” on its website, and widely publicized the fact that it would be “opposing” the order. You can read Apple’s letter here.
Apple’s response raises some fairly straightforward questions about what happens to people (or companies) that choose not to comply with a court order. Apple, no doubt, has plenty of excellent legal advisors who can easily answer questions like that. That’s barely worth mentioning. The bigger story, of course, is that by opposing the order, Apple has very visibly entered the discussion about privacy, freedom, and security in relation to electronic devices and personal data.
Are the notions of privacy and security mutually exclusive? Does one have to come at the expense of the other? Is it appropriate for law enforcement agencies to ask companies like Apple to build “backdoors” into their products?
Many of the issues raised by this case are not new – people have been struggling with the apparent conflict between freedom and security for many years – one need only think back to the imposition of so-called “Security Certificates” after September 2001, or the more recent passing of Bill C-51 for Canadian examples. What makes the Apple case interesting is that Apple is the largest company on the planet – they’ve decided to push back, and they have no shortage of resources to support their position.
I think this case, and the legal issues that it raises, is going to be part of North American legal and political discourse for years to come. Get informed, and stay tuned!